Sunday, September 6, 2015

Cheesy Pot Pie Casserole

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m racing through Fry’s Grocery in Scottsdale, AZ.  I waited until the very last minute to buy everything for the camping trip I had planned.  As I ogle the massive veggie section of this Fry’s, I start to run down the list of items I need to feed everyone for the 3 day weekend.  I grab an onion here, a bell pepper there, a few carrots, some celery, and the list goes on and on.  I added in some chicken, a little pasta, and some stuff to make things saucy!  This is going to be a healthy twist on some serious pot pie flavors.

Fast forward to Saturday night where I’m prepping and whipping up a casserole that puts most of my others to shame.  This casserole has the flavor of a high calorie dish but the actual calorie count of something much healthier.  Learning the balance of fats to veggies to proteins can be vital when you’re trying to create healthier dishes in your home.  For instance, you can use evaporated milk in place of half and half or heavy cream (depending on the dish).  This allows the dish to stay creamy but with fewer calories.

This dish is not only healthy, but the clean up is a cinch.  The majority of the dish is cooked in one pot through different stages.  This not only prevents a ton of pot and pan clean up, but it means you’re paying more attention to what’s in front of you rather than spreading yourself too thin across the stove top if you’re not comfortable doing that every night.  And who doesn’t love fewer dishes?

Cheesy Pot Pie Casserole

Prep Time:
Cooking Time:
Serves: 10

8 oz whole wheat egg noodles
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, quartered length wise and chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 tsp. fresh minced thyme
3 cans low sodium chicken broth (14-16 oz)
1 can fat free evaporated milk (5 oz)
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (halved length wise)
8 oz light Mexican blend cheese
½ c. frozen peas
¾ c. Panko bread crumbs
1 tsp. parsley
½ tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. Salt
1 ½ tsp pepper

1. Bring a pot full of water to boil.  This will be the only pot you use through the whole dish, make sure it’s a decent size one.  Once boiling, add in the pasta and cook it al dente (cooked just enough to bite through, but it’s still firm).  This should take about 5 minutes.
2. Drain the noodles, rinse until cool and then set aside in a bowl.
3. In the original pot, pour in the olive oil and turn up to medium high heat.  Once the oil is hot, stir in the bell peppers, onion, celery, and carrot.  Sprinkle them with just a pinch of salt.  Cook these until the onions are transparent and the carrots are just soft enough that you’re not crunching through them.
4. Toss in the thyme and stir the veggies for another minute.  Transfer veggies to a second bowl.
5. Combine the evaporated milk and 2 of the cans of chicken broth in the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Once it’s at a rolling boil, add the chicken to cook.
6. Once the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes or to 155 degrees internally, pull it out of the liquid.  Remove the pot from the hot burner and shred the chicken into bite size pieces.  Heat your oven to 425 degrees at this point.
7. Whisk 5 Tbsp of chicken broth in with the cornstarch.  Bring the pot back to a boil with remaining chicken broth to replenish what boiled off while cooking the chicken.  Add the cornstarch mixture once it’s boiling to thicken.  After 1 minute, remove from heat and whisk in the cheese until smooth.
8. Throw in the chicken, the veggies, the noodles, and the peas.  Season with 1 ½ tsp salt and 1/ ½ tsp pepper.  Mix it well and pour into a 9X13 inch baking dish.
9. Mix the Panko with the parsley and garlic.  Sprinkle on top of casserole.  Put in the oven for 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Perfect" Steak Tips and Tricks

I've made a lot of steak in my day but before we moved down to Phoenix, we had a grill.  That was easy peasy and the staple of our Friday night grill/game night.  Once we moved to Phx, I had to grow up a little (ok a lot) in the cooking without a grill department!  We were gifted a small George Foreman by an aunt and that was one of the best indoor inventions ever.  But it just doesn't do steak justice.  So I use that for chicken and veggies.
I ended up finally getting myself an inexpensive cast iron pan (as any well stocked kitchen should have) and I have yet to regret my $12 spent!  Here are some tips and tricks I've learned in my researching for making the "perfect" steak!

  • Heat the pan on High but cook the steak on Medium heat.
  • Let the meat rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
  • Pat the steak as dry as you can get it to prevent "steaming" while cooking.
  • Before seasoning, use a basting brush and cover both sides with Worcestershire sauce.
  • Some people believe that salting before cooking is a bad idea.  I say to each his own.  I love to have the salt in the crust of the steak. :)
  • For a 1" steak (kind of a guideline to adjust based on thickness):  Medium Rare: 2.5 mins on each side, 1.5 mins in 400 degree oven, Medium: 3 mins on each side, 2.5 mins in 400 degree oven, Well done: 4 mins on each side, 3 mins in 400 degree oven.
  • If you're doing a compound butter, slab it on top before you put it in the oven.
  • Don't trim the fat off the steak until after it's cooked.  This gives it more flavor while cooking.
  • If you don't finish the steak in the oven, cook on both sides twice.  Usually about 2-3 mins for each flip.
  •  Always remember that a steak continues to cook even after it's out of the pan.
  • Compound butters can be made with just about anything in your pantry.  They make a perfect topping if you want just a little more than the steak by itself.  Once mixed REALLY well, wrap in parchment paper and freeze for when you need it.  Don't be afraid to get creative and fresh herbs give it just a touch of color!
  • Try to shoot for steaks that are at least an 1" thick.  Anything thinner tends to dry out much quicker.
As I come across more tips and tricks I'll continue to add to the list!  These are just some of the different helpful things floating around out there!