Garlic Chicken Pasta with Roasted Asparagus

 

I love fresh asparagus.  Love, love, love.  This week I got it from our local farmer’s market, but next year I really want to grow my own.  Did you know asparagus is a weed?  It will grow wild in dry areas.  I just need to find a place to grow it (you need full sun, and I don’t have any).

 

But that’s only part of the recipe.

 

The other part of the recipe is adapted from a recipe for Smokey Garlic Chicken Pasta which you can find below:

(Source: Dinners Dishes & Desserts)

 

Here is the recipe as written:

 

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16 oz. Pasta, any short cut will do

3/4 cup half and half

1/4 cup skim milk

1/4 cup butter

2 large garlic cloves, grated

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/2 Tbls pepper

1/2 cup bacon, crumbled

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 1/2 cup Lawry’s Garlic and Herb Marinade (or Italian Dressing)

1/4 cup Barbeque Sauce (I used Sweet Baby Rays)

In a shallow baking dish cover the chicken with the Marinade and Barbeque Sauce.  Bake at 300 for 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Shred chicken.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions.

In a small saucepan melt butter.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add in the half and half, milk, pepper, and cheese.  Whisk until smooth.  Add in the crumbled bacon.  Cook for 3-4 minutes.

In a large bowl mix the chicken, pasta and sauce together.  To serve top with additional cheese if desired.

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I never buy half-and-half or skim milk so I figured a cup of 2% would more or less substitute.  But oops!  I forgot to look at how much milk we had, and we were completely out by the time I made this recipe!  So instead I added the last little bit of low-fat sour cream we had in the fridge (maybe 1/3-1/2 cup?) and about a cup of water, and oh my goodness that was the best sauce I’ve ever tasted!  It may have helped that I used 3 cloves garlic instead of 2 . . . I also really like garlic.  I left out the bacon because we didn’t have any, but hey, I did have Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce (my husband’s favorite, but the first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup . . . so I’m thinking we need a replacement).

As you can see from my picture, I didn’t shred the chicken.  I had half breasts so they still had the bones and skin.  When you cook chicken, the skin can help keep the meat moist.  If you don’t want the extra Calories and fat, just peel the skin off after cooking.  Easy peasy.  (Personally, I love the skin.)

Back to the asparagus.  You put fresh asparagus on a baking dish and drizle with olive oil, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.  I don’t know what the amounts are, just eyeball it.  Cook at 400 for 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through.  Or, you can be like me and put it in with the chicken.  It just takes a little bit longer that way and may not get crispy (I took the chicken out and turned up the oven for the last 5 minutes or so to make up for it).

This was an amazingly delicious meal!  Also, it was a lesson in the rule that cooking is a forgiving art – you don’t always have to follow the recipe 100% to get good results (with certain exceptions, but I don’t usually make those kinds of food).  I am still learning to experiment in the kitchen but this was fun!

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

 

I love soup.  I love baked potatoes.  So it’s no surprise that I really love loaded baked potato soup.  It’s really easy to make and doesn’t take very long.  The recipe below is adapted from The Pampered Chef – they want you to make it all in the microwave, and you can do that, but know that it won’t save you any time.  I made mine on the stove because I don’t actually have a big enough dish that’s microwave safe! (the one thing I don’t like about melamine).

 

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

 

  • 3 large baking potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 3 cups milk (more if you boil potatoes in milk)*
  • 4 oz cream cheese*
  • 2 Tbsp butter*
  • 4 oz cheddar cheese, shredded*

Optional toppings:

  • green onions, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • additional cheese
  • bacon, crumbled*
  • sour cream*
  • whatever else you put on a baked potato!

*To make this recipe low-fat, use fat-free milk, nonfat or reduced fat cream cheese, and a low-fat spread with no trans fat (if it says “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients, throw it away!).  Also either eliminate sour cream and bacon, or use turkey bacon and low-fat or nonfat sour cream.  And if you can find it, Weight Watchers has reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese (or maybe it’s a Mexican blend; I can’t remember).

 

1. Boil and mash potatoes (takes about 20 minutes).

2. While potatoes are cooking, whisk cream cheese until smooth, then slowly add 3 cups milk and continue to whisk until smooth.

3.  Once you’ve mashed your potatoes, add milk mixture and butter and heat, stirring until smooth (it will be very thin, but don’t worry).

4.  Add shredded cheese and stir until melted.

5.  Serve with whatever toppings you want!

 

Note that you can add salt and pepper to the whole pot, but I never do – just like with my turkey chili, I know that no matter how much salt or pepper is already in the recipe, my husband and I always add more.  Plus, when it comes to salt, you get the most bang for your buck when you add it right at the end.  So try making this recipe without any salt and you’ll find out that you really don’t need very much (if any – I didn’t add salt to my last bowl and I didn’t miss it).

 

Try it!

Paleo Pork Roast

Okay, so I definitely don’t live on the Paleolithic diet.  I just found this recipe on Pinterest and it looked good, so I tried it.

 

 

The recipe is pretty simple:

 

  • 1 pork tenderloin (I just used a petite pork roast so the result wasn’t as fall-apart tender but it still tasted delicious)
  • 1 bag baby carrots
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 5 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock (the recipe calls for natural sodium-free chicken stock; I used low sodium)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder

Combine the spices and rub them on the pork.  Combine the veggies, put half in your crockpot, making a “nest” for the tenderloin.  Place the seasoned pork in the crockpot, top with the rest of the veggies, and pour the chicken stock over all.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

 

Now, considering that the Paleo diet is supposed to consist only of foods that can be hunted/fished or gathered, I think the inclusion of salt and chicken stock is a bit of a stretch, as is opting for garlic and onion powder rather than pure garlic and onion (I don’t even have onion powder in my house, so instead I added about 1/2 chopped onion to the vegetables.  You can probably use a couple cloves of garlic instead of garlic powder (if you cut it into thin slices, then cut slits in your meat, you can insert the garlic slices into the slits and it will season the meat).  But like I said, I don’t follow the Paleo diet, so I don’t care how accurate it is (if you’re interested in the Paleo diet, there is plenty of information available online, but I would research the pros and cons because a lot of dietitians and even anthropologists are critical of the contemporary Paleo diet).

 

Despite the beautiful picture, I wasn’t totally sure how this recipe would turn out because I don’t like celery or peppers.  But I know they’re really good for you so I figured it was worth a shot.  And guess what?  it was delicious!  Granted, my husband won’t eat the vegetables, but he likes the pork at least.  And in this case, I don’t mind that he doesn’t like the vegetables because roasted carrots are pretty much my favorite thing on earth.  When I lived at home, I had to compete with my dad and little brother over who got the most, but now I can have them all to myself unless I cook them a certain way that Justin likes.

 

If you use low-sodium or sodium-free chicken stock, this is a great recipe without a ton of salt.  And because pork is leaner than beef, this is a great low-fat alternative to chuck roast (plus it’s cheaper).  I will definitely be making this again in the future.

 

Mother’s Day Cupcakes and My First Fondant!

Happy Mother’s Day!  I love my mom, and I love making presents rather than buying them, and I love baking, and my mom loves chocolate.  Add it all together and you get cupcakes!

 

A few months ago I came across these adorable cupcakes on Pinterest:

 

 

 

Those tiny little roses are too cute!  I had to try them.

 

I had never made or even worked with fondant before so I was a little hesitant.  I mean, I didn’t even know what fondant was made out of.  Fortunately, there is a super simple and super cheap way to make fondant, and it happens also to be super delicious.  Instead of using shortening and powdered sugar, which tastes about as gross as it sounds, you use marshmallows and powdered sugar – yum!

 

I’m going to write out the basic recipe, then give a link to a more detailed recipe that gives a lot more instruction on how to work with fondant (which if I had read it, I probably would have had an easier time!).

 

Basic marshmallow fondant recipe:

  • One large package mini marshmallows (my recipe said 16 oz, another said 21 oz, and the bags at the store were either 10 or 20 oz, so I think it doesn’t really matter that much)
  • 2 lb powdered sugar (one large bag)
  • water
  • food coloring

Melt the marshmallows in a double-boiler with a few tablespoons of water (you can also put them in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring them every 30 seconds until melted).  Add about 1/2 to 3/4 of the powdered sugar and stir until combined (you may need to add a little bit more water).  Then knead the rest of the powdered sugar in.  Very important: this stuff is sticky so keep your hands and kneading surface dusted with powdered sugar.  Alternatively, you can grease your hands and kneading surface with Crisco, but according to the in-depth recipe below, as well as my own experience, greasy fondant is harder to work with.

 

Add your food coloring and continue to knead until the fondant is smooth and firm – about 5-7 minutes.  Ta-da!  (Taste it – it’s yummy)

 

That’s the bare-bones idea so you can see that it’s not really very complicated.  But you should also read this recipe because it gives more instruction and details.

 

Anyway, so I tried making the tiny rosebuds, and considering that it was my first time ever working with fondant, I think I did pretty well.  I couldn’t get them as tiny or delicate as the ones in the picture, but again, I think this was partly because I used Crisco instead of powdered sugar to keep the fondant from sticking.  Next time I will try powdered sugar and see how it goes!

 

I frosted the cupcakes with buttercream frosting (Betty Crocker recipe – I hate store-bought frosting) before putting the fondant on.  I was surprised at how easily the fondant stayed on the frosting, even after the frosting had set (homemade buttercream frosting turns hard after a while).  The fondant flowers also sort of stuck to each other so I didn’t have any trouble keeping them on the cupcake – which was fortunate, because the cupcakes felt a little top-heavy!

 

 

Making those little rolled flowers takes a lot of time.  I didn’t have all night, so for half my cupcakes I used a cookie cutter to make a simpler flower.

 

I think they look really cute together!

 

 

It’s fun to experiment, and I think overall this was a success.  I am excited to work with fondant again!

Pizza Casserole

 

 

This is another recipe I got from Facebook so I’m not sure what the source is.  I have a goal to make one new recipe each week, and this week I thought Pizza Casserole sounded fun and interesting!  Below is the recipe I found, but I made some modifications to it.

 

Pizza Casserole:

1 (16 ounce) package uncooked rotini pasta – I used shells because that’s what I had; anything works

1 lb ground Italian sausage – I used ground turkey (much lower in fat) and added salt, pepper, and Greek seasoning (my husband’s favorite seasoning)
1 (24 ounce) jar pasta sauce
1 (16 ounce) container cottage cheese (I used 2% rather than 4% milkfat – do they make nonfat cottage cheese?)
1 (2 1/4 ounce) can sliced black olives, drained (I used chopped olives)
1 (4 ounce) can mushrooms, drained (I omitted this because I wasn’t sure my husband would like the olives, so I didn’t want to press my luck!)
12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (I accidentally got monterey jack at the grocery store)
2 (3 ounce) packages sliced pepperoni (I used turkey pepperoni, and less than 1 package probably)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9X13 casserole dish.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place pasta in the pot, cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until al dente, and drain.

In a skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage until evenly brown, drain grease. Mix in the cooked pasta and pasta sauce. Pour into prepared casserole dish.

In a bowl, mix the cottage cheese, olives, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.

Spoon the cheese mixture over the sausage and pasta mixture. Top with pepperoni slices.

Bake 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until bubbly and lightly browned.

 

My husband’s exact words: “It was awesome!”

Easy Delicious Shrimp

 

 

 

My husband and I love shrimp.   We hardly ever eat it though, because I am bad at cooking it!  Whenever I try to fry or grill shrimp, I inevitably overcook it, resulting in tough, chewy shrimp.

 

One of my Facebook friends reposted this super easy recipe for shrimp, and guess what – it works!  Delicious, perfectly cooked shrimp.  As far as I’m concerned, I will never pan-fry shrimp again.

 

In case the link above doesn’t work, this is all you have to do:

 

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Line a baking sheet with foil.

3. Melt a stick of butter and pour it in the pan.

4. Slice a lemon and layer layer it over the butter.

5. Arrange fresh raw shrimp over the lemon slices.

6. Sprinkle Italian seasoning over the shrimp.

7. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

 

Voila!  Mine even looks like the “real” thing:

Deviled Egg Chicks

Easter is a very important holiday for my family.  As Christians, we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus and his victory – our victory – over death.  Easter also reminds me of college – my roommates and I started a tradition of having an Easter egg hunt and making fajitas for Easter dinner, and now that we’re spread out all over the country, it’s a way for me to remember them and all the fun we had.  Additionally, it was the day before Easter, four years ago, that Justin asked me to be his wife and start a new life together.  Finally, this year Easter fell very close to the one-year anniversary of my release from the hospital after near-fatal pulmonary embolisms.  So the holiday has lots of significance for us.

 

This year Justin and I had an Easter party and I saw the cutest recipe idea on Pinterest:

 

How sweet is that?!  I decided I had to try it.  Mine were not as awesome as the picture above (also I didn’t have grass) but people still thought they were cute, and they ate them.

 

As you can probably see in the picture, my egg-peeling skills still need work.  I’ve heard that fresh eggs peel the best – I bought these on Tuesday and peeled them the following Sunday; I guess that’s not fresh enough.  I also cooked them the Martha Stewart way (bring to boil, remove from heat and cover for 20 minutes, then ice bath) and peeled them under running water.  Does anybody have any additional tips for this?

 

After peeling the eggs, you cut off a small portion of the wide end to be a base, and then cut about 1/3 of the opposite end off to be the hat.  Here I ran into an unforeseen problem: often, the entire egg yolk was in the bottom 2/3 of the egg.  I am a deviled egg novice, so how are you supposed to scoop the yolk out without breaking the egg white? (Now I see why traditional deviled eggs are sliced length-wise).  If I stored the eggs upside-down – or rather, narrow side up – would the yolk float more toward the narrow end of the egg, and if so, would it stay there when boiled?

 

The next problem with this recipe is it is MESSY!  I didn’t use quite 3 tablespoons of pickle juice (the minimum called for in the recipe), but I think that amount or perhaps 1/3 cup mayo is too much because the egg yolk mixture didn’t hold its shape very well once I put the chicks’ “hats” on, so their “faces” got very squished looking and the yolk mixture got all over the place while I was trying to fix them.

 

Also, the spinach “grass” is not just for decoration – if you don’t have something to prop the eggs up, even though the bases are flat, they will tip over when you carry the tray.  Just a heads up.

 

Will I try this again?  Maybe, but I think I’ll practice making regular deviled eggs first, and maybe get a melon-baller or something for that tricky yolk.  I think I’ll modify the recipe a bit too to make it less squishy.

 

On the plus side, they tasted really good, and the people who don’t have Pinterest were really impressed with them!