Ranch Chicken

I tried a new recipe last night.

It was a blend of two different recipes I’d found on the internet that I wanted to try – both called Ranch Chicken but very different in their approach/ingredients. So, being the daredevil that I am, I decided to make my own version by blending the basic pieces of the two.

It was a huge success. So much so that I couldn’t get a picture because my family gobbled it up!

This will most definitely go into my regular rotation for the future.  I served it with some chicken-flavored rice (a-la Rice-a-Roni type rice) and steamed veggies.  There was barely enough left for SuperMan to make a lunch plate for himself. And none for me to make a lunch plate. But I like it that way. That means they liked dinner!

A couple notes –

– I used a combination of panko and corn flakes. Mostly because I was almost out of panko but also because I was blending two recipes and one called for panko and the other for corn flakes. We really liked the crunch of the corn flakes and I’ll probably do just those next time.

– my Houston House Seasoning is a staple in my kitchen. I use it on almost every savory dish I make. It’s so easy to keep blended in an old spice container and I just sprinkle it on my dishes as I season. I like the combination of flavors that it adds to every dish.

– another staple in my cooking is Mrs. Dash Garlic Blend. I use it on almost everything. Salt free and full of flavor.  I buy the huge bottles at the warehouse store – that’s how much I use it!!

– I cooked these on top of a wire rack on a cookie sheet/jelly roll pan. That allowed the air to get all around the chicken and kept it from getting soggy on the bottom. If you don’t have a wire rack, you could just put the chicken on your cookie sheet. I think it’ll be just fine.

On to the recipe:

Ranch Chicken

1 cup mayonnaise
1-2 Tbsp. Ranch Seasoning (I use Hidden Valley Ranch – another thing I buy in bulk quantities) + more for seasoning the breading
~ 1 Tbsp. Houston House Seasoning + more for seasoning the breading
~ 1 Tbsp. Mrs. Dash Garlic blend + more for seasoning the breading
2 cups Panko bread crumbs OR Crushed Corn Flakes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large (gallon) zip lock bag, mix the mayonnaise, ranch seasoning, house seasoning, and Mrs. Dash
  3. In another large zip lock bag, mix the bread crumbs/corn flakes, parmesan and some additional house seasoning, ranch seasoning and garlic blend
  4. Place chicken breast in mayonnaise bag and shake to ensure it’s well coated in the mayo mixture.
  5. Place coated chicken in the breading bag and shake to ensure it’s well coated.
  6. Place the chicken on a wire rack (sprayed with cooking spray) that’s been placed on a jelly roll pan/cookie sheet.
  7. Repeat with all the chicken breasts.
  8. Bake 45 minutes at 375 degrees.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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Mini cooking day

I try to do a cooking day every few months to prepare some casseroles and meals in advance so that when life gets crazy I have a secret weapon in the freezer to save my sanity and feed my family. I had planned to do a big cooking day with some friends this August, but life got nuts for all of us and it just never materialized.

Earlier this summer our big freezer decided it was time to go to the big appliance graveyard in the sky.  We lost a LOT of food – and a lot of the stashed meals I had. (sad face)  We were so fortunate to have a small refrigerator in reserve so we still have an extra freezer for storage and I’ve been trying to decide if I could stuff it with freezer meals or not.

I have been so busy with work and appointments for my Girl that I was really feeling the pinch of not having my secret weapon to rely on.  So, this past weekend I decided to do a mini cooking day.  I used the Labor Day holiday to my advantage. SuperMan went with me to the store and helped me shop (he’s great at finding deals) and I came home and spent a few hours doing some cooking.

Since my new freezer is small, I couldn’t do a lot of meals. I will probably  have to do smaller-scale cooking days from now on. But I did manage to make a couple meatloaves and some chicken spaghetti ahead for busy nights.  And we’ve already used one of each this week as we’ve been busy with doctor visits and I haven’t been home to cook early.

It’s a little extra work on the front end to do a cooking day, but it is SO WORTH IT in the long run. When you are stressed out, tired and frazzled it’s hard to make healthy decisions for feeding your family. I tend to want to fall back on take out meals.  That’s not only less healthy (generally speaking) it’s also a lot more expensive.

Rather than spending $30-40 on a take out dinner, I just doubled my portions for my meatloaf and chicken spaghetti recipes.  And we had dinner for probably $10-15 instead of more than double that. And it was GOOD. And I knew all of the ingredients were wholesome.

I can’ t recommend that you try this yourself strongly enough.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Here is how you can get started:

  • Pick a couple recipes (2-3 to start with) that you know are family favorites and would freeze well.
  • Work out your shopping list – if you’re doubling your recipe be sure you double your items on your shopping list.
  • Shop your pantry and freezer first. Use up what you have before you go buy more. (save money!)
  • Go shopping for your remaining ingredients. Don’t forget disposable pans and zip lock bags. You won’t want to tie up your casserole dishes in the freezer. (This also makes it easier to gift a freezer meal to a friend if she needs it one night!)
  • Pick a day when you have 2-3 hours (at least) to work in the kitchen.
    I suggest doing your prep (vegetable cutting, etc.) the day before if you can. That’s more efficient for cooking day AND you divide the labor over multiple days so it’s not so tiring.
  • For your cooking day, fill your sink with hot soapy water so you can clean as you go (in case you need to reuse your utensils or bowls)
  • Clean everything off the counters that are not related to your cooking project – give yourself as much working space as possible.
  • If the family isn’t helping, banish them from the kitchen (if you can) for less distractions.
  • Lay out your recipes and place your ingredients next to your recipes. Lay out the utensils and bowls as well.
  • I usually start with the recipe that requires pre-cooking first – like when I need to cook chicken for a casserole, or brown ground beef.  Get those started first.
  • Assemble your dishes.
  • This is going to sound crazy, but DON’T SIT DOWN. Keep going until you finish. If you stop, it’s hard to get going again. Trust me on this one.

When you’re preparing the finished dishes for the freezer, here are a few tips for you:

  • Use multiple layers to ensure you get a good seal. I usually use plastic wrap AND foil. I have had too many experiences where I’ve only used foil and someone slid something on top of my dish in the freezer and tore the foil.  Doubling up your layers lessens the risk of a ruined meal and also helps to preserve the moisture in the dish and protect from “freezer flavors” getting in your food. *Don’t forget to write a note on top of the dish to remove the plastic wrap!* Melted plastic wrap would be a nightmare in your oven.
  • Use labels to identify what the dish is, whether it needs to be defrosted first, and how it should be cooked. Be sure to take into account the fact that you may be pulling it from the freezer and cooking it semi-frozen. I’ve found that adding a few minutes to the cooking time normally called for in a recipe helps to ensure you don’t pull out a half-finished dish from the oven. This also helps if your hubby or kids are doing the cooking – make it as easy as possible for them to be successful!
    You can also write directly on the foil with a sharpie if you don’t have labels.
  • Stack your items in the freezer – and consider adding a label to the outside edge so you can easily see what’s there without having to pull out the whole stack.

Here are some of the recipes I use in my freezer –

You can also do chili and taco meat easily in the freezer.

If you’re a freezer cooking gal, I’d love to hear any tips or suggestions you have!

And if you’re not – I hope you’ll give it a try!

Sorting Saturday 

  
I’m busy sorting recipes today. Getting my pile of printed recipes sorted and in binders. 

Just came across one and thought “That looks good!” (It was one of my own recipes! LOL)

If you’d be interested in seeing my recipe management system, let me know!

What are you up to today?

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

This recipe is one of my old standby recipes for whenever I’m having people over. It’s a sure-fire winner and everyone seems to love it (and most people request the recipe)  Add to that, it’s pretty simple to make and most of the ingredients I always have on hand and it’s a winner for me.

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It makes a 13×9 sized pan full of yummy, creamy goodness. Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee and some good friends and good conversation.

I made it just this week when I had some ladies over – and shared the leftovers with my neighbors.  Which is part of why I’m posting the recipe here – my sweet neighbor’s son requested the recipe.

It may look complicated when you first look at the recipe below, but trust me, it’s simple.  And you can have it in the oven in about 10 minutes if you have all the ingredients at room temperature when you’re ready to begin. It goes together a lot better when the cream cheese and butter are soft.

So, CB, this is for YOU!

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Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Filling:

2 8 ounce packages of cream cheese (I use low-fat)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. of almond extract (optional)
1 egg

Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (softened)
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1 cup sour cream (you can use light or regular)

Streusel topping:

1/4 c sugar
1/4 c flour
3 Tbsp. butter (CHILLED AND CUBED)

Glaze:

1/2 c powdered sugar
3 tsp. milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Spray a 9×13 pan and set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, combine the filling ingredients (use an electric mixer for the best mix possible). Set aside.
  4. In another mixing bowl, combine the cake ingredients, beginning with the butter and sugar.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time and the extracts.
  6. Finally, add the dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream.
  7. Spread half of the cake batter in the 9×13 pan.
  8. Add the cream cheese filling on top of the batter, spreading carefully with a spatula (offset spatulas work great for this)
  9. Top the cream cheese mixture with the remaining cake batter.
  10. Use a fork or spatula to “swirl” the batter/cream cheese once or twice.
  11. In another small bowl, use a pastry blender or fork (or your hand held mixer if you have a low setting) to combine the topping mixture.  Be careful not to over mix. It should look like “sandy gravel” when it’s properly combined.
  12. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the cake.
  13. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is golden brown and the center is cooked. (You can tell by inserting a toothpick – if it comes out clean, it’s done.)
  14. Let cake cool for about an hour and make the glaze.
  15. Drizzle glaze over the cooled cake and let set before serving (if you can wait that long!)

#SimpleSaturdaySuppers

I’ve decided to start sharing some simple (easy) supper ideas with you – and since they’re usually what I end up cooking on Saturdays, I thought that would be a good time to share them with you, too.

Here’s an oldie but goodie that I’ve already featured on my blog – Pizza Bread. You can make it with homemade dough, or if you want it to be a truly Simple Saturday Supper, use the premade french bread dough like I do.

I make it with leftover spaghetti sauce, bagged Italian cheese blend and whatever pizza meats I have on  hand – pepperoni, bacon, sausage. I add bell peppers, etc. as the kids and SuperMan are in the mood for.

It’s quick, easy and really tasty.

Give it a try.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

I know the weather is warming up (some days) but I still wanted to share this soup recipe with you all. It is my new favorite comfort food soup. I stumbled across it somewhere online this winter and have made it several times. I’ve even made it for folks as dinner when they’ve had illnesses or surgeries – and everyone just raves about it.

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The great thing about this soup (other than the taste) is that it is very easy to make, requires ingredients you most likely already have in your pantry, and can be easily scaled up or down to make more or less as you need.  I’ve made it with one pound of ground beef for a small batch that lasted me a week’s worth of lunches and I’ve made it with three pounds to feed two families.  All you do is add or subtract ingredients as you need to size up or down.

The recipe below is the “base” recipe which uses one pound of ground beef.  If you go up from there, you might play with the proportions of bell peppers and tomatoes to get the ratio you prefer.

This truly tastes like stuffed peppers in soup form. Except, to me, it’s even better.

One other thing to note. I keep my rice separate until I serve it so that it doesn’t soak up all of the broth.  I also usually use leftover rice.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1-2 bell peppers, roughly chopped (1 if they’re large, 2 if they’re small)
1 can of petite diced tomatoes
1 large beef bullion cube (or 1 box/can of beef broth)
1 can tomato soup (I have also used a small can of tomato sauce when I was out of the soup)
Houston House Seasoning
1 tsp sugar (to taste – takes out the bitterness from the tomato)
1 tsp minced garlic
1-2 cups COOKED rice

  1. Brown ground beef in a large stockpot. Season with House seasoning while cooking.
  2. Add minced garlic, onion and peppers and sauté until the vegetables are slightly tender.
  3. Add broth (or bullion and water), tomatoes, tomato soup, and House seasoning.
  4. Bring to a boil and add sugar as needed for bitterness from tomatoes.
  5. Simmer on the stove for about 30 minutes on low.
  6. To serve, spoon some rice in the bottom of a bowl and ladle soup on top.

It tastes even better the next day. Smile

Chicken Caesar Pasta

This has become my kids’ favorite meal. I made it last night and they said, “You should make this every week, Mama.”

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Of course, if I made it every week it would no longer be their favorite meal.  So, I’ll save it in my bag-o-tricks for those days when I really don’t have time to cook and know that I have a sure-fire winner for dinner in spite of no time.

Seriously, this takes no more than 30 minutes to prepare.  And it tastes like something that took waaaaaayyyy longer – or maybe came from a fancy restaurant.

The original recipe came from Cook’s Country Magazine. One of my favorite magazines.  That and it’s sister publication, Cook’s Illustrated.  LOVE those magazines.  I’ve never cooked a bad meal that I’ve found in those pages.

The little one says she loves the combination of warm and cool.  The big one loves the wilted lettuce and chicken together.  I just love it all.  It’s a perfect pasta dish.  And it’s even good the next day as a cold salad.

Seriously. Try this. You won’t regret it.

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Chicken Caesar Pasta

1 pound pasta (fusilli, cavatappi, etc.) pasta
Salt & pepper
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (shredded, I use the fancy shreds, not the grated stuff)
2 Tbs lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced (or 2 tsp jarred minced garlic)
6 Tbs olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 c balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing
2 romaine lettuce hearts, halved lengthwise through core (do not cut core off)

  1. Marinate the chicken breasts in the balsamic vinaigrette for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Make the Caesar dressing. (see below)
  3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large stockpot. Salt generously.
  4. Add pasta and cook until al dente (about 8 minutes)
  5. Pour off pasta into a colander and rinse with cool water. Set aside in a large bowl, ready for the other ingredients when they’re ready.
  6. While pasta is cooking, heat your grill. Cut chicken breasts into smaller “tender-sized” pieces. This will allow them to cook faster on the grill without drying out.
  7. When grill is hot, cook the chicken.
  8. Just before the chicken is finished cooking, lay the romaine cut side down onto the grill.  Cook for about 1-2 minutes per side until slightly charred.
  9. Bring chicken and lettuce to a cutting board. Tent chicken with foil while you chop the lettuce. Place cut lettuce in with the pasta.
  10. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place in the pasta.
  11. Toss the chicken-pasta mixture with the Caesar dressing, mixing ingredients thoroughly.
  12. Sprinkle with some leftover parmesan cheese and DEVOUR.

Caesar dressing

This is truly the best homemade Caesar dressing. I can hardly stand bottled Caesar dressing after tasting this. Spoiled me forever.

In a blender or food processor, blend the mayonnaise, parmesan, lemon juice, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper.  Slowly add the olive oil until incorporated. Set aside until ready to top the pasta.

*original Cooks’ Country recipe can be found here.