berkshiregirl

Cooking, Crafting, Creating, Living

Cheesy Chicken Artichoke Bake December 7, 2010

Casseroles are one of my favorite dishes to make.  With some tasty ingredients, pasta, and cheese, you can easily make a delicious meal that is sure to please.  One in particular that I enjoy is my Cheesy Chicken Artichoke Bake.  I often serve this at room temperature at picnics and parties as a side dish, or heated as the main course.  The flavor is pleasing to the palette and the combination of colors catches the eye.

Ingredients:

16 oz. Dried Farfalle Pasta

1 Small Onion (chopped)

2 tbls. Butter

1 lb. Chicken breast (cut into bite size pieces)

1 tbls. Chopped Garlic

2 cups Fresh Spinach (chopped)

2 cups Fresh Cherry Tomatoes (chopped)

14 oz. Artichoke Hearts (chopped)

2 cups Whole Milk

1 cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese (shredded)

1/2 cup Feta (crumbled)

2 cups 6 Cheese Italian Blend (mozzarella, monterey jack, provolone, asaigo, parmesan and romano cheeses)

2 Large Eggs (beaten)

1/4 tsp. Ground Black Pepper

1/4 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper

1/2 tsp. Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook pasta according to package directions; drain well.

In a medium skillet, cook diced chicken and onion in butter over medium high heat until chicken is cooked and onion is tender.  Add chopped garlic spinach and cook until spinach is tender.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine egg, milk, cheese, artichokes, tomatoes and chicken mixture.  Add salt and pepper.  Stir in cooked pasta, and transfer to greased 9″x13″ baking pan.

Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.

For Topping:

1 cup Italian Bread Crumbs

4 tbls. Parmesan Cheese

2 tbls. Butter (melted)

1/2 tsp. Peprika

Combine breadcrumbs, melted butter, parmesan cheese and peprika (I like Penzey’s Northwoods Seasoning)

Sprinkle over chicken and bake uncovered 10 minutes more, or until top is golden brown.

Let sit 15 minutes before serving.

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In search of the perfect meatball….. December 1, 2010

Spaghetti and meatballs has always been a reliable favorite at our dinner table.  We’ve always made our own meatballs from scratch.  I can’t count the number of meatballs I’ve rolled in my life, and each batch is always a little bit different than the last.  I don’t have a favorite recipe that I follow religiously.  Nor do I have favorite brands of pasta sauce or select ingredients.  It all depends on the mood that I’m in, the time that I have, and the ingredients on hand.

Having FRESH ingredients makes all the difference when it comes to GREAT spaghetti and meatballs.  It doesn’t matter if you are making meatballs and sauce from scratch or just “hooking up” your basic canned sauce, adding vegetables will make a HUGE difference.

A do have a few favorite ingredients that I like to add to my meatballs.  Feta and basil are always a good pairing, I usually put both of these in with diced red onions.  Lately I’ve been grinding croutons instead of bread crumbs.  I like the variety of flavors available.

The one staple ingredient in all my meatball recipes is an egg.  It helps the meatballs to keep their shape without drying them out by adding too many bread crumbs.

Tonight our meatballs took center stage.  I didn’t really have time or ingredients on hand to make sauce from scratch, so I just added a few select ingredients to make it a bit tastier.

For the meatballs:

1lb. Fresh 90% lean hamburger

1 medium onion (diced)

3 cloves garlic (chopped)

1tbls cut fresh basil

1 cup chopped croutons

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1tbls flour

1/3 cup milk

1 large egg

1tbls olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Don’t be afraid to dig in and get your hands dirty.  I like to really “squeeze” the ingredients together so they pack easily into meatballs.  Sometimes I like to roll the formed balls in additional crouton crumbs, this isn’t a necessary step, but adds extra crispy flavor to the edges.

I cook my meatballs on an electric skillet.  We have this ancient Daisy “roundabout” that works like a charm.  I use only extra virgin olive oil on the pan and keep the temperature at about 250 degrees.

For the sauce I sliced green peppers and onions.  Always sample your tomato sauce prior to using it.  Depending on the sauce you may need to sweeten it if it is too acidic*.  Red peppers and carrots will add sweetness, as well as a teaspoon of grape jelly.

Our sauce* tonight wasn’t very acidic so I left out the sweetners and added about 1/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese.  This went into the pan on top of the sauteed peppers and onions before I added the sauce.  I like to melt the feta completely so it doesn’t leave salty chunks.  For anyone who hasn’t tried melting feta, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.  All of the salty sharp properties that are present in the cheese when it is served cold dissapear and it becomes a sweet smooth cheese of a completely different flavor.

When the feta is melted, I add the sauce straight out of the jar.  Depending on how thick the sauce you are using is, you may want to fill the jar up to 1/2 way with warm water and shake before adding to pan.  This not only helps thin the sauce, but cleans the jar out and doesn’t leave any waste.

Tonight we used angel hair pasta.  I like to pair this with spaghetti and meatballs so the pasta doesn’t overpower the flavors of the meat.

I can’t stress enough that the one true “secret ingredient” to any dish is passion.  If you really enjoy the cooking process itself the end result will more than likely be a good one.  Teach yourself to “color outside the lines”.  Be creative!  Chances are you’ll discover something wonderful!  Some of my favorite dishes have come from me just tossing random ingredients into a saucepan.

*If you happen to choose a pasta sauce that is too sweet, you can add fresh diced tomatoes, canned tomatoes, or a very small amount of lemon juice.

*We used Tuttorosso Traditional Pasta Sauce

 

A lot to be thankful for! November 26, 2010

Filed under: Recipes — berkshiregirl @ 11:30 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s that time of year again.  Time to gather with family and friends and embrace the coming cold months ahead.  Time to contemplate all of the things we have to be thankful for.  And most importantly, time for GREAT food!

Lets talk a bit about Thanksgiving.  A great American tradition.  From that first feast, to the most extravagant gourmet spread, Thanksgiving has always been a great excuse to cook.  My family hasn’t always been big on traditions, but we have been big on food.  And Thanksgiving growing up was always the same.  We had the oven cooked turkey, stuffed with my father’s “famous” stuffing.  Mashed potatoes, breaded cauliflower, butternut squash, gravy, rolls and cranberry.  Sure we would have a few additional sides from time to time, but that was our meal.  Tried and true.  And sure to please.  I’ve always loved to be in the kitchen.  I feed people.  The bigger the crowd the better.  I love all of the wonderful things that can be done with food, and I’m always experimenting with new recipes.  I have a problem tho, I’m not able to conform to the listed ingredients.  I can’t just make a “New York Style Cheesecake”  without making it “Amanda’s New York Style Cheesecake.  I can’t follow the recipe for basic pizza dough without throwing in a little something extra.  And I’m not so good at doing the same thing twice.  So this Thanksgiving we did a few things differently.  Sure we made Dad’s stuffing, we can’t have Thanksgiving without that, we even did the mashed potatoes, breaded cauliflower, and gravy same as always, but we threw in a few curve balls to keep people guessing.  And a finishing touch that would keep em wanting more. And we had a blast doing it.

Lets talk Cheesecake!

“Amanda’s” New York Style Cheesecake

Crust –

1 1/2 cups original almond biscotti (crumbled)

1/2 cup ground raw almonds

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup salted butter (melted)

Filling –

4 8oz Packages Philly Cream Cheese (room temp)

1 cup granulated sugar

3 tbls. flour

5 large eggs (room temp)

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Topping –

1 1/2 cup sour cream

3 tbls granulated sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Start by combining biscotti, almonds, brown sugar and butter in a medium mixing bowl.  Make sure that butter is fully incorporated into crumbs.  Transfer to 9″ springform pan and press into bottom and about 1″ up sides of pan.  Refrigerate.

Next, in a large mixing bowl, combine softened cream cheese, flour and sugar.  Mix until smooth.  (I don’t have a stand mixer or electric mixer so all of this is done “by hand”  I use a wooden spoon and a bit of brute force, but manage to make a very smooth cake. ) Now add eggs, one at a time, stirring each in completely.  Add heavy cream and extracts and stir until incorporated.  Pour over refrigerated crust and place in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes lower oven temperature to 250 degrees and continue to bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove cheesecake from oven.  Cake should be firm on the sides and only slightly “wabbly” in the center.  Set on wire rack while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, combine sour cream, sugar and vanilla.  Spread topping over cake and bake and additional 15 minutes at 250 degrees.

I decorated my cake with frozen berries and used the juice to make a glaze.  I also used melted dark chocolate to make swirled design.

I believe cooking is an art that should come from your personal taste as well as a precise amount of spontaneity.   Do what “feels” right.  Experiment!!!!  Above all have a great time doing it!!!

Lets talk Turkey!  Where the heck is it?

This year my husband suggested we try to cook our turkey “in a hole”  I had never heard of this before and absolutely HAD to do it.  After some in-depth internet research I became an expert on the subject and the more I thought about it the more excited I became.

So at 7:30 Thanksgiving morning we were in our back yard digging a 3 foot hole in the ground.  I can only imagine what our neighbors thought.  We chose a good sandy location which isn’t hard to find in Sheffield, and lined the hole with old fireplace bricks.  But I’m told stones will do.  This apparently helps to hold in the heat.  On top of the bricks went the fire.  A lot of wood, kindling and newspaper.  Brandon was in charge of this and worked it up to about a foot of hot coals.

Meanwhile I started to prep the bird.  Ours was a fresh butterball turkey weighing in at just under 20lbs.  I removed the gizzards and rinsed him inside and out.  Then I made a little herbed butter with fresh rosemary and thyme.  I used a large spoon to lift the skin away from the breast and stuffed the butter over the entire breast.  I then stuffed the cavity with whole baby carrots, red and white skinned baby potatoes and quartered sweet onions.  Finally I melted more butter and poured it over the entire bird.  Then I wrapped it in about 6 layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil and made a “cage” out of hardware cloth and old metal clothes hangers.  This protects the bird from the shovel when it’s being dug up.

Around 9:00 I went to check on the fire.  Brandon had added about 6 inches of hardwood charcoal to the fire and was trying to get it to light evenly.  It’s quite amusing that our cooking utensils so quickly went from fork, knife and spoon to shovel, leaf blower and the hook we use in our wood stove.

By 10:00 the bird was ready to go in.  We pushed some of the coals to the sides of the pit and lowered it in.  Then we covered it completely with coals and about 6 inches of packed dirt.  Then we just walked away.

Five hours later we dug it up and voila: