Chicken parmesan meatballs

I look very happy to be making meatballs here. My sister was far less happy I was handling that much raw chicken.
I look very happy to be making meatballs here. My sister was far less happy I was handling that much raw chicken.

Digging some drafts out of the archives for this one – because comfort food knows no season, in life or in weather.

Here are some things about me. 1. I love Italian food. 2. I love cooking like an Italian mama. 3. I love feeding people for a festive reason. 4. I like things that are tasty, relatively easy (I realize ease for some is not the same for others) and sure to please a lot of people. These meatballs are 1. super affordable (no really, have you LOOKED at the price of boneless, skinless chicken breast compared to beef?) and 2. go. on. EVERYTHING. Pasta? Check. Pizza? Absolutely. Sub or sliders? You bet. Spaghetti squash? Veggies never had it so good. Alone as an appetizer? Fugetaboutit.

Also, you’ll use your food processor in a way you’ve probably never thought before. Do you make your own sausage? Yeah, me either. But I’ll be darned if my food processor didn’t do a great job “grinding” this meat, which was far cheaper than buying ground chicken. (Also, far more disgusting. I thought my sister was going to boycott the whole event after she saw that.)

If raw chicken doesn’t bother you, though, this actually comes together pretty quickly. I made a HUGE batch for sliders for NYE a few years ago and reused them in every single way listed above. They freeze well, reheat well (though may dry out a bit, FYI), and are super easy to make gluten free. (Or dairy free – you pull the parmesan out but still get a tasty meatball.) This recipe, inspired and adapted only slightly from Annie’s Eats, is all kinds of good. Serve it with your favorite marinara (even if it comes from a jar) or vodka sauce. Or baked goat cheese in marinara. Cause that’s well…awesome.

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 – 3/4 c panko, breadcrumbs or GF crackers
  • 1/3 c onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 t thyme
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1/2 t Rosemary
  • 1 t basil
  • 3/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1½ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (or already ground chicken)
  • 2 T olive oil

Get cooking:

  1. If you’re grinding your own chicken, chop those chicken breasts into large chunks, then add to your food processor. I start by pulsing, and then maybe running on low, until everything is ground.
  2. Add your chicken to a bowl with the other ingredients. Mix by hand (gross maybe, but so much easier) until the meat sticks together. You may need to add more bread/oil depending on how dry your chicken is. This is where it’s nice to have a helper, s you don’t have to keep washing your hands.
  3. Form into balls and (if you’re really feeling sassy) roll in more cheese. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 400 20-25 minutes, or until internal temp is 170 (knowing they’ll rest and come to 180.)
  4. Serve in all the ways I state above and any other you can think of.

 

Comfort meal made easy: Roast chicken and mashed potatoes with broccoli

So here’s the deal: yes, making super fancy food can be a super-hella-blast. I like it more than most. But sometimes, I’ve had a long day. I want to come home, put on my jammies and eat something that warms me from the inside out. I want it to be real, wholesome, homemade – and good for me. And cheap-ish is always stellar. (I’m kinda needy, even on jammie night.) So here it is, the warm-you-up, fill-your-heart-without-busting-your-pants-or-budget ultimate meal: roasted chicken. Mashed potatoes. Broccoli.

Roast chicken
This roast chicken is so amazing we had to show it some love. Seriously, we couldn’t stop sneaking bites – we had to make a whole new chicken!

Roast chicken, you say? Well that’s some boring dinner, Amanda. I submit to you, it is not. It may not photograph perfectly (see lack of finished dish photo) but you perfectly roast a chicken with nothing but salt and pepper – I am telling you , your life will change. And mashed potatoes? Do not have to be laden with fat and cheese. (I mean, they’re super good when they ARE, don’t misunderstand, but they don’t HAVE to be.) And broccoli gets a bad rap, but I’m here to tell you, if you make it like I instruct below, you will turn the staunchest of green-things hater into a believer. (And I should know – I’ve done it). So bust out your yoga pants and hoodie, pour a glass of wine and put on the jazz. Or blues. Or teeny-bopper pop, I’m not here to judge.

You’ll need:

  • 1 roaster chicken (4-5 lbs)
  • 1/4 cup + 3 – 4T olive oil, divided
  • 2-3 citrus fruits, quartered (Lemons, limes, oranges – whatevs)
  • 12 cloves of garlic, minced (Yes, you read that 12 right. Garlic’s good for you.)
  • 3 T basil
  • 2 T thyme
  • 1 T rosemary
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 lb of your favorite potatoes, cubed (I like the Klondike rose, which is a redskin … skin… and a yukon gold center.)
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/2 cup milk (I use skim because that’s what I drink – sometimes I use buttermilk. Use what you have.)
  • 4 oz 1/3 less fat cream cheese (I said they weren’t laden with fat and cheese, I didn’t say they had no flavor.)
  • 2 heads broccoli, cut into florets and stems discarded (Unless you’re into that sort of thing, but me and the stems are a no-go item.)
  • Salt and pepper

Get cooking:

Chicken

  1. Check inside – if there is a bag of innards, remove and pitch. (And be grateful it’s already in a bag for you.) Pat chicken dry. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place chicken in a roaster pan (I like to keep it up off the bottom of the pan by putting it on a roasting rack or even a cooling rack, so if you have one, cool. If not, no worries.)
  3. Combine green spices, salt and pepper and half of garlic with 1/4 cup oil and rub chicken down. No for real, give it a good massage.
  4. Stuff the inside with your citrus fruits, just until it’s full. Some people like to truss the bird (which means tying its legs together so the fruit stays inside). But it’s PJ night and I’m lazy. So I don’t.
  5. Now go and wash your hands, or my sister will have a fit.
  6. Tent chicken with aluminum foil and bake 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the chicken comes to 165 or 170. (It ‘should’ be 180, but it will keep cooking after you pull it out of the oven.)
  7. Remove tent in last 15 minutes or so of cooking, so the skin gets all nice and brown.
  8. Once you hit the magic number, pull out of oven and cover with aluminum foil tent, resting for 10 – 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, back at the counter – your chicken’s in the oven. Broccoli and mashed potatoes won’t take you more than 30 minutes or so. Take a break! Put your feet up, make some tea, read a book. Ok now come back,  we still have work to do.

Broccoli

  1. Lay broccoli on 9 x 13 cooking sheet (love my stoneware sheets for this, but anything works.)
  2. Drizzle with remaining oil, half of remaining garlic and salt/pepper.
  3. When you pull the chicken out of the oven, pop in the broccoli and roast for 10 minutes, or until it’s really, really green.

Potatoes:

  1. Boil a pot of water on high.
  2. Add potatoes, turn down to medium, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until a fork just pierces the potatoes (but they still have some give).
  3. Drain potatoes and return to hot pot.
  4. Add rest of garlic, cheese milk, butter and salt/pepper, and mash with a potato masher until potatoes are your desired consistency. (I like mine chunky. For super smooth, add more milk or cheese and use a hand mixer.)

Serve potatoes and broccoli with your chicken.

Perfect Pineapple Rum Chicken

When David and I were first married, I committed to cooking something new at least once a week. It was a great way to expand my cooking skills from “broke college student” to “newly-married with a bit of money to play with professional.” I stumbled upon this recipe in a Rachael Ray cookbook and armed with a cupboard full of rum from our tropical honeymoon and a sale on fresh pineapple, I went to work. Slightly adapted from the original, it became and still is one of our favorite dishes. It’s also crazy fast to make.

You’ll need:

  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized pieces (You can use canned here if you like. I always just wait for the sale because I love the taste of fresh pineapple.)
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ red onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T ginger, minced
  • ½ – ¾ cup rum, any flavor
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • ½ t crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Steamed rice for serving

Get cooking:

  1. Heat skillet over medium high heat until warm, add oil.
  2. Once oil is hot, add chicken and onions – cook for 5-7 minutes until chicken is browned and onions of soft.
  3. Add garlic and ginger – saute for 1-2 more minutes.
  4. Add rum, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or flat whisk (deglazing) and let reduce by half.
  5. Add pineapple, chicken broth and spices. Boil until liquid is reduced by half.
  6. Serve over rice (while listening to Jimmy Buffett.)

Monte Cristo Sammies

Colie and Amanda came over for dinner a while ago and I wanted to make something fun and festive for the occasion. We get together every Thursday for Top Chef and Grey’s viewing nights – always at my house, but the cooking rotates. I found this amazing Raspberry ham and havarti cheese on sale at GB Russo’s that week, so I knew I wanted to make a sandwich. I thought about just a panini, but then it came to me, like a thief in the night – monte cristos. I had only ever made them once before, using a Rachel Ray recipe for southwestern monte cristos and black bean soup. I thought her style was great – instead of battering and deep frying, you batter it and slap it on the griddle just like french toast. Better for you and WAY easier to boot.

Since I already had the ham and havarti, I started thinking about what else would go well with those flavors. I had leftover chicken breasts and fontina cheese, so we used that, along with blackberry jam. I served honey and dijon mustard for dipping, and made them on homemade challah bread.

Except, I left Amanda to slice the bread. And if I am the world biggest overmaker, girlfriend is right there in the sisterhood with me. Because instead of slicing the bread normal way, she sliced from the top down – and turned a two pound loaf of bread into 6 equal slices – exactly enough for three sammies. You can imagine then, how big and thick these slices were. INSANE. And delicious. We only ate half, but it was so amazing heated up for lunch the next day. I served this with some delicious roasted asparagus.

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound of meat, 2 varieties (Use what you love – I normally hate ham, and loved this raspberry ham, so use what sounds good.)
  • 3/4 pound cheese, mixed kinds (Again, whatever sounds nice.)
  • 6 T fruit jam
  • 1 loaf bread, sliced (Challah worked great here, but so would any other kind of yummy bread.)
  • Mustard
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • Cooking spray

Get cooking:

  1. Heat a skillet to medium high heat and coat with non stick cooking spray.
  2. Beat these eggs into the milk – this will be the batter for your bread.
  3. Assemble the sammies as you normally would.
  4. Dip each side into the batter, being careful to keep the sandwich together (this gets easier with practice).
  5. Put into skillet and cook just like french toast – wait for the sides to get brown and then flip. You may need to cover for the cheese to melt, depending on how thick the bread is sliced.
  6. Cut in half and serve!

Lemon basil alfredo sauce

So, we were having people over one night and I decided that the Pioneer Woman‘s Lemon Basil chicken pasta was going on the menu, as I had some cream to use up, and PDub’s my go-to girl when that’s the case. Also, she’s my go to crowd-pleaser, because everyone always loves her stuff.

But of course, I took her idea as a starting point and used it as inspiration. First of all, I marinated the chicken in my own vinaigrette overnight and used bone in, skin on, for flavor. Grilled to perfection, it was AMAZING in this dish. Also, as we are already familiar with my passion for garlic (obsession you say? passion, obsession, potato, putahto, black, white) –  I had to add that. And what is garlic without onion? Sad, my friends, garlic is sad without it’s best friend and constant lifetime companion, the onion. Life partners they are, journeying to the depths of culinary dishes everywhere in hopes of bringing them out of darkness and into the light. So yeah, had to add.

Also, did not use as much – nee, ANY – butter, just a titch of oil (lie, 1 T) and whole milk instead of half and half (from a failed pudding pie attempt – let’s not talk about it. I’m still ashamed and ANGRY I spent so much on making two completely useless pies and THEN to add insult to injury, David had to BUY snack! Buy it! Like he’s a bachelor, for crying out loud! Such things are not acceptable in my world, and I feel my reputation is tarnished, with a big red A for absolutely should never try to make pudding again. )

I did use all the lemons and some zest, and would actually back down next time, as I feel the basil (and I even sprung for fresh!) was overpowered by the lemon. It was still amazing, don’t get me wrong – as heavy as alfredo, but the lemon made it feel like summer on a plate. But I LOVE fresh basil and am usually too cheap to buy it, so when I do, I really want it to shine unabashed.

And finally, well, Jon came over, and conned me into doubling the recipe. Are we surprised that the BIL with the hollow man has this kind of pull over me, the perpetual Overmaker? No. It’s like telling a crack addict that her next hit is for the good of her friends. Have Mercy.

Oh, and I almost forgot – replaced half the parm with fontina. Because why wouldn’t you? It’s God’s cheese, fontina, and I’m sure He says that somewhere in the gnostic gospels, right along with commenting on the ludicrousness that is no carb diets.

Ok, long front story aside, this fed…7 people…with a TON leftover, sent home with my BIL and his hollow leg to share.

You’ll need:

Pasta

  • 2 pounds pasta
  • 3 cups cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 1/2 c shredded fontina
  • 2 bunches basil
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 onion, diced fine
  • 1 T oil
  • 8 lemons (like i said, i would back down to 5 or 6 here)
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Chicken

  • 4 chicken breasts (could do more or less here – to taste)
  • Juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 3 T oil
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper

Get cooking:

Chicken

  1. Combine chicken and marinade ingredients – let sit overnight, or for a few hours.
  2. Once you’re ready to cook, pull out chicken and let come to room temperature, then grill (or pan fry, or bake) until 170 degrees.
  3. Pull it out, cover with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes – it will come to 180 degrees and actually be juicy, and wonderful, and not underdone I swear.

Pasta

  1. Put water on to boil – once rolling, add pasta and cook until it’s done the way you like. I like a little bite (al dente) – David thinks I’m psychotic. I cook, so I win. 🙂
  2. In the mean time, heat oil over medium high, saute onion until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Back heat down to medium, add garlic, saute for 30 sec-1 min, until you can smell it.
  4. Deglaze with the lemons and the wine – you can skip this, but I LOVE cooking with wine.
  5. Add milk and cream – bring to a simmer.
  6. Once simmering, add cheese. Stir until it melts.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Add in cooked pasta and stir to combine.
  9. Add basil just before serving.
  10. Slice chicken and put over pasta, or serve alongside.
  11. Eat. Eat some more. Eat leftovers for three days. Enjoy. 🙂

Gnocchi in a white wine sauce

I have quite a few “go to” meals under my belt for those nights where I don’t want to think – I just want the pasta to boil and be done with it already. Yes, even I have those nights. But those nights don’t mean I want to run through the fast food line either. So, this dish is a great way to mend the gap – the sauce cooks uber fast, it works both in the summer and the winter and everywhere in between and it is yummy and comforting.

Gnocchi, if you’ve never had it, is like a baby potato dumpling / pasta mix. Warm and chewy and yummy. I’ve found though, that people either love them – me and the hubs and Mom – or hate them – Colie. So, if you know you’re not a fan, you can use any kind of pasta with this sauce.

I do this a few ways – if I’m feeling really dressy, I’ll serve with a roasted, bone in, skin on chicken breast and a roasted acorn squash (serving the gnocchi inside of the hollowed squash.) This is a very classy, warm winter meal. Other times, I may cook boneless skinless chicken breasts in the pan first and serve with roasted green beans or broccoli. If I’m feeling really lazy, I’ll shred a pre-cooked roasted chicken or with no meat and a salad. It’s a really versatile dish that’s heavy enough for a meal but also light enough in flavor that it serves as a nice side too.

You’ll need:

  • 1 lb gnocchi (or other short pasta)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 T basil
  • 1 t oregeno
  • 1 T butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Get cooking:

  1. Put a pot of water on to boil. While that’s working, if you are cooking chicken, make it in the same pan as the sauce. Then warm up the pan to medium high-ish, add oil and let it warm up. Add the onion and saute until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add in garlic and saute one minute more. Add wine to the pan and scrape up the bits (if any) on the bottom of the pan.  Let reduce by 1/3-1/2. Add juice and zest of lemon, spices and butter.
  2. At some point in here, the water will have boiled and you’ll add the pasta. Gnocchi only takes about three minutes to cook, and you know it’s done when it floats to the top of the pan. Once that happens (or when the pasta is done) drain and add directly to the sauce.
  3. That’s it! Mix to combine and serve with whatever sides (or no sides) sound good to you that night. If you want more “heft” to the sauce, you can add chicken stock after you add the wine and let it reduce together.  Also, I top with Parmesan cheese, just for a little more flavor – you can use whatever you like.

I have an obsession with…enchiladas

So here’s the thing. I like to eat lots of different things. I have a few meals that are in constant rotation, but for the most part? I branch out a lot. The one thing, though, that I could eat every week for the rest of my life, without fail, is chicken enchiladas. Really, any Mexican food, but there is something about chicken enchiladas – the spicy red sauce, the creamy center, all that cheese, topped with my homemade guacamole – that makes me GIDDY with delight. I am totally biased and I don’t think any restaurant makes them nearly as well as I do, and really, don’t even GET me started on restaurant guacamole – most of it should be illegal because it’s awful.

A former high school teacher – Tiffany, but really, always Miss Frayer to me, even as a 26-year-old adult – sent me a FB message w hile back asking if I had any enchilada recipes. Poor woman, she had no idea what was coming. I have slow cooker and stove versions, and a huge variety of both. I’m posting my enchilada manifesto below – and you know what? I’m going to tell you how to make slap your mamma guac too, just because it’s such a tragedy that so many people eat so much BAD guacamole.

You’ll need:

Filling

(Any of these can be adjusted based on preference – also can be used without enchilada “stuff” and served with chips as chicken nachos.)

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Jar of salsa
  • Can of black beans, drained
  • 2-3 red/green/yellow bell peppers, diced
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 block cream cheese or 8 oz shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1/2 T cumin
  • 1 t paprika
  • Cayenne to taste 🙂
  • Oil (if needed)
  • Tortillas
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar

Red sauce

  • 1 28 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1/2 T cumin
  • 1 t paprika
  • 1 t cinnamon – my secret ingredient 😉
  • Cayenne to taste 🙂
  • Oil

Get cooking:

Filling

  1. Slow cooker version – dump 2 chicken breasts into a crock pot with a jar of salsa. Cook over low for 8 hours or high for 4. Shred, add spices, a can of drained black beans, sautéed red/green/yellow pepper, onion and garlic and cheese.
  2. Stove version – saute diced chicken in oil with onion and pepper, add garlic. Then add spices, salsa and cheese.

Sauce

  1. Saute onion in oil until translucent, add garlic and saute until fragrant, add tomatoes and spices and stir.
  2. Put together option 1: Cover bottom of pan in layer of sauce, fill tortillas and put on top. Cover with sauce and add cheese – bake at 350 until cheese melts and inside is warm, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Option 2: Cover bottom of pan with sauce. Layer in one layer tortillas, followed by one layer of filling, sauce, tortillas, filling until you run out of filling. Top with one more layer of tortillas and the cheese – bake the same amount of time.

Guacamole

(I’m going to write this as if you were making for one person, so one avocado’s worth of “stuff.” Expand as needed.)

You’ll need:

  • 1 avocado, diced
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1/4 red onion, diced fine (red is very important here, to get the right flavor)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 jalapeno, diced
  • 1/2 roma tomato, diced (if you are a tomato in your guac person – I am not)
  • Salt and cilantro to taste

Get cooking:

  1. Mix ingredients together – I keep the avocado a bit chunky, because I like the texture, but mash if you like.
  2. Let it sit about 10-15 minutes if you can to let everything mingle. If you can’t, I’m not judging.
  3. Serve on enchiladas or with El Matador tortilla chips. (Now, I don’t hock many name brand things. I will swear on a stack of bibles that short of making your own chips from your own homemade tortillas, these are God’s chips. I am certain they serve them in heaven or I don’t want to go there.)

I put the pizza place to shame

We are in the middle of snowstorm number two for the year and I actually attempted to trudge out for a birthday celebration. I made a left hand turn and did a 180, saw someone suck in a huge ravine and was doing 40 on the freeway – I turned around. And while the company isn’t as good, the homemade pizza I’m making for dinner almost soothes away the sting. That, and the jammies, the Pinot grigio and the Grey’s Anatomy marathon.

I have worked long and hard to find the best homemade pizza recipe out there. I make the dough in my bread machine and I’ve found that 1.5 pounds of dough is the perfect amount for a medium-ish pizza that serves 4 people 2 large slices. I did a 1-pound ball tonight, which is good for a thin crust. I use tomato paste for the sauce, which is the perfect thickness and also gives a great rich flavor. I use fresh mozzarella and blot to keep it from getting too watery and top with all my favorite things. It’s the great thing about pizza – whatever sounds good, mix with sauce, cheese and bread. What could be more comforting?

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound dough
  • 1 12-oz can of tomato paste
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 2 T Italian seasoning
  • 1 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • Toppings that sound yummy (I like chicken, caramelized onion, bell peppers, kalamata olives, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts.)

Get cooking:

  1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, pop it in while you prep the pizza. If not, you can prepare the pizza right on whatever pan you want to bake with.
  2. Slice the mozzarella as thin as you can, then place the slices between paper towel (at least two sheets thick) in a bowl and put a large can on top. This will squeeze out the moisture while you prep everything else.
  3. Roll out the crust to fit the pan (or stone). I have a pizza peel, so I coat that with some cornmeal and use it to transfer. If you don’t, you can cornmeal a piece of wax or parchment paper and use that to slide the pizza on the stone, or just prepare it on the pan you plan on baking with.
  4. Combine garlic, seasoning and tomato paste. Spread on crust.
  5. Put on whatever toppings you like.
  6. Remove cheese from paper towel and place on top (This allows the cheese to get brown and bubbly, as well as keep the moisture off the crust.)
  7. Bake 15-20 minutes until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

That’s it! Super easy and delicious. Serve with a salad if you want, though I usually have enough veggies on mine that I don’t feel the need. 😉

 

Chicken Cordon Bleu Mac and Cheese

This recipe is a great example of what happens when your best laid plans don’t quite work out in the kitchen. My sister Nicole, brother-in-law Jon and friend Amanda came over, and I was planning on making a lemon chicken cordon bleu with … I honestly can’t remember what the original side was now. In any case, I decided to change it to mac and cheese based on what was in the fridge (and I want to say I was missing an ingredient for the original side.) But I was trying to quickly defrost a whole heap of chicken breasts (I normally only freeze two at a time) and they did not defrost the way I hoped they would – aka, I didn’t think I’d be able to butterfly them open to stuff the provolone and ham in them. So, change #3 – combine the chicken and the mac and cheese of course! And so, chicken cordon bleu mac and cheese was born. I’ll tell you exactly what I used here (because it’s what I had on hand) but I’ll also recommend substitutions. This fed – well, technically there were 5 of us, but my brother-in-law should really count for three people with the amount of food he can eat – and made probably 4-5 lunch servings of leftovers. I served with a nice salad and a new cocktail (which I will save for another post.) It’s a great, hearty meal to beat the cold – and the cocktails.

Ingredients:

6 chicken breasts, cubed into bite-sized pieces (ok, really, you could use 3-4 and be FINE – I was talked into using all of what I had by the boys.)

1 T EVOO

1 onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, minced (again, I am obsessed.)

1 lb ham (whatever kind you can find – mine was lunch meat), diced (you could get away with about 1/2 pound here – I used 1/2 in the sauce and 1/2 as a topper)

3 T butter

3 T flour

2 cups milk (whatever you have)

1 8oz brick cream cheese

8 oz provolone, shredded

8 oz colby jack, shredded (Could switch to swiss for a traditional feel)

1 lb short cut pasta

Salt and pepper

Pinch nutmeg

1-2 T Thyme or Italian seasoning

Directions:

Put a pot of water on to boil – once boiling, cook pasta until it still has a bit of bite. Drain. In the meantime…

Over medium high heat, season chicken with salt and pepper and brown in a skillet. Cook almost through, then transfer to a plate.

Add butter and melt, then add ham and onion. Saute about 5 min, until the onion is soft and the ham starts to get some color.

Add garlic, saute 1-2 minutes, until you can smell the garlic.

Add in flour and mix together – let flour cook about 1 minute or so.

Whisk in milk, let come to a bubble and thicken. Add nutmeg, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.

Add cheeses and mix until melted.

Add in pasta and chicken and cook for about 5 more minutes, until chicken and pasta are cooked through.

At this point, you could make a breadcrumb topping and bake, or you could serve with ham for a topper. Guess which is easier? 😉

Eat. A lot. And drink. A lot. Trust me, this meal will let you handle it.

Pasta Puttenesca

This is a great go to recipe when it’s summer…or fall…or winter…or really whenever. It hits the same notes (and is just as easy) as spaghetti, but it’s not quite as heavy. First introduced to me by Rachael Ray, I’ve seen this made a million different ways since. According to legend, puttenesca is the Italian word for “ladies of the night.” Apparently the spicy smell attracted men from the docks. The fact that I love it…not sure what that says about me. Moving on…
This is a great dish – a few specialty ingredients, but honestly, don’t sweat if you can find stuff or don’t like it. Just leave it out. I keep all of these items on hand, and the hubs LOVES this dish. Plus, I can make the sauce in the time it takes the pasta to cook, which is always a plus. This dish is really fast and easy – kind of like our ladies. Without the scare of STDs. That’s always nice.

You’ll need:

1 pound pasta, any cut (I use long cuts, but it would be good with whatever)
2-3 T Olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced (or, if your me, 5-6. I love garlic!)
1/2 large onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced (optional), or 1 lb of shrimp, defrosted
1/2 – 3/4 cup white wine
1-2 T anchovy paste (You can leave this out if it freaks you out. Honestly, the flavor is awesome and with paste, you just don’t have to think about it. It dissolves anyway.)
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1-2 cans artichoke hearts (2 if you’re cooking for the hubs – he loves them)
10 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1-2 handfuls kalamata olives, chopped (Again, if you don’t like them, leave them out. Could also sub in green olives here. I hate black olives, but I suppose they would also work.)
2 T capers
1 T basil
1 T Thyme
1 T oregeno
Red pepper flakes (To taste, depending on how spicy you want it.)
Salt and pepper to taste (Go easy on the salt – the olives, capers and anchovy paste should give you enough.)

Get your water on to boil the pasta.

While that’s going, heat a large skillet on medium high heat and add your olive oil.

Chop your garlic, onion and red pepper, and saute in the oil 3-4 minutes. If you are using chicken, throw that in and cook until it’s about done, 5-6 minutes.

Throw in your white wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to pick up any of the bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. This is called deglazing. It rocks.

Somewhere in here, your water will boil, so add the pasta. Cook until just about done (it will cook in the sauce for a minute or so, so undercook by that much) and drain. Don’t rinse!

Add the rest of the ingredients to the sauce. If using pre-cooked shrimp, add now as well.

Stir.

When the pasta is done, add and stir again. Let cook for 1-2 minutes.

That’s it. No lie. Top with some cheese if you want and eat up.