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.

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.

Easy weeknight supper idea

For the past month or two (or maybe longer) Little Bit has been asking me to make “pizza bread” for dinner.  I made it once a long time ago and it was apparently one of her favorite incarnations of pizza that I have made.

I’ve resisted making it because, frankly, it was a lot of trouble.  Making the dough, letting it rise, rolling it out, chopping up all the ingredients, etc.  And it has just seemed like we were too busy to bother making it again.

But she has persisted in asking and so, when I saw that the grocery store had French bread dough on sale last week, I decided to try an experiment.

And it worked!

Super easy, super fast pizza bread!

A perfect weeknight dinner idea, ready within 45 minutes and so very tasty. Almost as good as the made-from-scratch version.  The family loved it and I loved how easy it was.

Here are the cast of characters:

Easy Peasy Pizza Bread Ingredients
Easy Peasy Pizza Bread Ingredients

Not pictured, frozen bell peppers (chopped) and Italian seasoning.

The most difficult part of making this dish (and seriously, this is not difficult) was unrolling the bread dough.

Unrolling the dough
Unrolling the dough

Once I unrolled the dough, I sprinkled it with the mozzarella cheese blend and added the toppings.  We like sausage, pepperoni and bell peppers. I was super lazy last night and used frozen bell peppers that SuperMan had chopped for me when we only needed half of a pepper for a recipe.

Toppings
Toppings

(I hadn’t put the cheese on yet in this picture)

Once I had all the toppings in place, I rolled the bread back up into a loaf, sealed the seams and the ends and popped it into the oven.  I baked it at 350 for about 35 minutes.

While that was baking I warmed up some spaghetti sauce I had left over from another recipe. You could certainly use jarred sauce if you have that, too.

Once it was finished, we sliced the bread and gobbled it up.

And I mean, literally gobbled. I didn’t get a single picture of the finished product!

Seriously, though, this was so easy and perfect for a busy weeknight meal.

I hope you give it a try.

Quick and Easy Pizza Bread

Pillsbury prepared French bread dough
Shredded Italian cheese blend
pepperoni slices
Cooked sausage crumbles (I used Jimmy Dean frozen turkey sausage crumbles)
chopped bell pepper

any other pizza toppings you like

  1. Unroll the bread dough. (I did this on my silpat baking mat. If you do it on your counter be sure you spray it with cooking spray first so it won’t stick)
  2. Sprinkle about 1 cup of cheese on the dough
  3. Add your toppings
  4. Roll the bread dough back up, sealing the seams and the ends. Score the top with 2-3 shallow slices to allow for expansion in the oven.
  5. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
  6. Allow to cool for about 5-7 minutes before slicing and serving with warmed spaghetti sauce.

What I’ve been cooking lately

I’ve been on a soup kick since the weather got cold… cooking my old favorites – beef stew, chicken noodle soup, chili, etc.

But I have also been on the lookout for new soups and stews to try.  One of them I thought I’d invented myself, only to discover that what I’d really made was my own version of an old Italian standby.  I’ll share that recipe with you soon.

Another new soup that I’ve discovered is one I made this week. I found the pin on Pinterest (don’t you love that?!?) and then forgot about it until I was looking for an idea for dinner one day when I was feeling uninspired about cooking. (yes, it happens)

I found the recipe for Chicken Meatball & Orzo soup over on the blog Will Cook for Smiles.  I have to say, the soup was spectacular.  It was like French onion soup and chicken noodle soup had a baby.   Not quite so onion-y and not so chicken-y either, but a perfect marriage of the two. Three out of four in the house loved it.  The fourth liked the orzo, loved the broth but wasn’t so crazy about the meatballs and onions.  It’s ok, she’ll grow into the taste.  I would highly recommend you try it. 

photo from Will Cook for Smiles

It didn’t take long to cook, either. Maybe an hour total, including prep time.  I made the meatballs early in the day and let them chill in the fridge until I was ready to cook the soup.  I sautéed the onions and carrots until I got a nice caramelization on the onions.  I think that is key to the richness of the soup.  I also almost burnt my meatballs. I forgot that chicken has less fat and therefore burns easily! Yikes!  But all that goodness in the bottom of the pot came off when I added the broth and just made the soup that much better… Talk about turning a mistake into goodness. Smile

Another thing I’ve cooked and loved lately are these delicious chocolate fudge muffins.  Another case of tragedy averted here, too, as I was planning to make chocolate muffins (from a mix) for breakfast one morning and found that I was out of my standby mix.  I tried these muffins and we haven’t looked back.

While it take (a few minutes) longer to pull together than dumping a mix in a bowl and adding some milk, it tastes a whole lot better.  And I can control the sugar and fat content as well, which I like. (I’m also a big fan of sneaking in some extra protein powder to amp up the protein for the girls’ breakfasts by sneaking it in my muffins – don’t tell them!)

 

I think you’ll like them, too.  I’ve also taken the same recipe and made mini loaves of chocolate bread – which would be GREAT for Christmas gift giving…if you’re looking for a recipe to use.

More kitchen experiments to come soon.

What’ve you been cooking in your kitchen?

Chicken & Wild Rice Soup

My friend, Cindy, who makes the most wonderful meals, made this soup for our family one night not too long ago.  After that dinner the girls and I kept thinking about, and talking about that soup.  We just had to have more.  It was so good!

My first attempt at re-creating the soup was not quite as good as Cindy’s was.  She had used a specific wild rice blend and my homemade spice blend did not quite match.  The soup was good, but a little spicy (I think too much ginger) and the girls weren’t crazy about it.  It most definitely wasn’t Cindy’s soup and that was what they wanted.

So, I waited a week or two and went back to the drawing board… or cutting board, that is.

My second attempt was much better and was quickly gobbled up by the entire family.  As a matter of fact, ALL of the soup was gone, which almost never happens at my house.  The girls even asked for it in their thermoses for lunch.

Success!

This is a great, hearty and comforting soup. Perfect for a rainy or cool fall day.  Leftovers are great – the rice absorbs as lot of the broth but it is still very good and you can always add more broth or water if you want it thinner.  We liked it just fine with less broth and it was so tasty even two days later.

I have no picture because there was nothing left to take pictures of!  Try it anyway. Smile

Chicken & Wild Rice Soup

Ingredients

1 pound chicken (I used a combination of thighs and breasts)
water for stock pot
chicken bouillon cube
1-2 stalks celery
1-2 carrots
1 small onion
~ 1 Tbsp garlic (minced)
2 boxes Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice (including spice packets inside)
salt/pepper
Houston House Seasoning
~1/2 – 3/4 cup half and half (or milk)

Instructions
  1. Dice celery, carrots, garlic & onion.  Add to stock pot with water and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil, adding chicken and seasoning generously with salt/pepper and Houston House Seasoning.
  2. Remove chicken and shred, reserving broth.
  3. Stir the rice and seasoning packets into the broth.
  4. Add chicken back to soup and bring to a boil.
  5. About 10 min before serving, add the half and half.  Bring back to a simmer.

It’s super easy and super, super good. I hope you give it a try.

“Mexican” rice

One of the local Mexican restaurants has the BEST rice.

I just love it –

and Little Bit eats it every time we go there and has loved it ever since she was a wee thing.  Sometimes she will even ask for the rice as a side when we eat there.  Which is amazing because the rice has… wait for it… VEGETABLES in it.

Shocking, I know.

It has the best flavor and we all gobble it up in spite of the vegetables.

So, one day when we were in there eating, I commented on how good the rice was and asked how they made it. I figured it was some super-secret recipe that they cooked slowly all day or some secret grandma’s recipe.

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Nope.

The waitress sort of chuckled when I asked her for the recipe.  She said, “rice, onions and peas.”

Wait, what?

That’s it?

I couldn’t believe it, so I came home and tried it out.

And guess what?

That’s it.

This is seriously good, seriously simple rice.  It has become a standby in our house when we’re eating Latin-inspired foods.  And best of all, it’s got VEGETABLES.  And the KIDS WILL EAT IT!

*choirs of angels sing*

So, give it a try and let me know if your family loves it as much as ours does.

“Mexican” Rice

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups rice (I use basmati)
3 cups water (or whatever rice/water ratio your rice cooker calls for)
1/4 onion diced finely
1 cup peas (I’ve used frozen and canned (drained) successfully)

(optional: 1/3 cup finely diced  carrots – I use my chopper to make them really finely diced)

Instructions:

Put all ingredients in your rice cooker and set it and forget it.

Fluff before serving.