Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Creamy Chicken and Pasta with Zip!

Here be one of my "apply what I've learned on Food Network to what little I have in kitchen" applications. It shows up on our dinner table every other week or so in one incarnation or another, because it's way too easy and I like the way it tastes. There is always room for tweaks though, so I play around with it every time it hits the stove. You can use any pasta you like - bow tie works exceptionally well, though I've used angel hair in this recipe because it cooks more quickly. Change up the veggies as you see fit - or skip them all together. Your mom would be disappointed, though.

You'll Need:

- 2-3 boneless chicken breasts, or 6-7 chicken breast tenders

- 1/2 lb whole wheat pasta (angel hair, bow tie, fusili, etc.)

- 1 red bell pepper, julienned and halved

- 1 medium onion (white or yellow), diced

- 2 large cloves garlic, diced

- Chicken stock

- Flour

- 1 tbsp Butter

- Olive Oil

- Fat free half and half

- Crushed red pepper flakes

- Cayenne pepper

- Salt and pepper to taste


- Parmesean cheese

- Fresh basil, for garnish

Time to Cook!!!

1) Season the chicken however you like - I use a little cayenne, salt and pepper. In a large pan, brown the chicken breasts over medium heat - about 4-5 minutes on each side.

2) While the chicken is browning, dice your onion, garlic, and other veggies

3) While you're dicing, bring your water to a boil. Depending on the pasta you're using, you're shooting to time the pasta cook time with the end of the veggie cook time. The veggies and sauce will take no more than five minutes to come together, so if you're using a 10 minute pasta, make sure you get that in the water before you start the veggies. Cook the pasta according to the box instructions.

4) Back to the chicken. Once cooked, remove from heat and set aside to redistribute the juice. reduce heat to medium low. Add 2 tbs olive oil and 1 tbs butter. Add onion and saute for one minute. Add garlic - saute for one more minute. WATCH THE HEAT! Garlic burns easily. If it's getting too brown too fast, bring the heat back a bit. Let the goods pick up all of those yummy chicken bits though.

5) Add red pepper and saute for two minutes (or any other hard veggie that you're cooking through. The onions should be nicely caramelized and there should be a minimal amount of fat leftover. This is when you sprinkle in the flour - add it like you would powdered sugar to pancakes. The rule is one to one; if you used 3 tbsp of fat, add 3 tbsp of flour (slowly). Mix to combine, and cook one more minute.

6) You should be draining the pasta by now; make sure it's al dente! Dice the chicken into bite size bits in the meantime.

7) Add chicken stock; about three turns of the pan. You'll see how it forms a little sauce as it begins to cook into the flour. Remember the golden rule: it's easier to add than it is to take away. So go less than what you think you need. It should resemble a melty paste.

8 ) Add the half and half, about a turn and a half of the pan.

9) Add chicken back into the pan to reheat, along with red pepper flakes and parmesean cheese. I also add basil at this point.

10) Add the drained pasta to the sauce. Mix to combine.

11) Garnish with any extra basil or parmesean cheese!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Zuppa Toscana

Special thanks to my friend Nicole, who provided the recipe for and inspired this amazing, spicy, tastes-better-than-the-version-at-Olive-Garden soup. This was super easy and fun to make. As usual with most of my concoctions, I went for the low-fat versions of just about anything. If you want to use pork sausage, heavy cream - go nuts. You won't hurt my feelings. But trust me, you won't taste the difference (it only counts when you're baking, which I don't do.)

You'll need:
8 1/2 cups (68 oz) chicken broth
1 pack ground hot turkey sausage
4 potatoes, halved and sliced (like moon shapes)
1 medium onion, diced small
2-3 large cloves garlic, diced small
2 cups kale, just the leafy tops, chopped (I found this to be about half of a large bunch that you get at Meijer. To disassemble the kale, just grab lightly against the stalk and rip upward. The leaves will pull right off)
1/3 cup fat free half and half
Salt and pepper to taste

Viva Italy!
1) Brown the sausage and onion in your soup pot over medium-high heat. You shouldn't need oil, as the fat from the meat will prove adequate. Drain if necessary and return to pot.
2) Add garlic and cook through for another minute. Careful not to burn the garlic!
3) Add potatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender. FAT ALERT: You might have to do some skimming as the additional fat seeps out of the sausage and to the surface of the broth. You can do this with a regular soup spoon. It will come right off, so don't be scared of it.
4) Add kale, stir through, and cook for another five minutes, or until kale is tender
5) Remove from heat, and stir in the half and half just before serving
6) Salt and pepper to taste - If you used low sodium organic broth, you might want to add some salt for flavor. I used regular broth, and only needed about a pinch of each. I also added some cayenne pepper flakes, because I'm crazy that way

Recommended Garnishes:
- Whole grain artisan bread, hot and crusty!