Spicy Tips: For An Early On Mom-To-Be

Well it’s official: Matt and I are expecting our first little one in November!

Of course when I first found out, it was all over a rather drastic change in my eating habits. Matt had been the first one to notice that the beautiful half-rack of ribs that he had made me for dinner one night only warranted a nibbling on 2-3 ribs before I announced I couldn’t eat anymore. I kept asking for dinner later rather than right when I came home, when I would normally be ready to eat my hand! My sleeping habits also took a change when by 9:00 pm I was barely able to stay awake. And so with Matt’s encouragement I took a test one morning and over three months later here we are!

 

Since I am starting my second trimester, I am happy to report my eating habits have started to improve. But if you endured the food aversions like I did, then meats like chicken and beef became your arch-nemesis. I couldn’t even stomach the thought of chicken for almost a solid month and a half until I tried chicken breast at two family events. There were minor cravings for junk food but mostly I stuck to the staples that I knew I could handle without too much fuss.

 

As I am finally feeling a little more peckish these days, I thought I would share some of my tips that got me through the first trimester. Granted, they may not work for everyone but hopefully a few of them do help those mothers-to-be just starting out:

 

1) Keep it plain (and hopefully healthy). I know, not always the easiest thing to do when you have been cooking with lots of spices and flavors. But during that first trimester the thought of food doesn’t always sit right with most women. You may not throw up, you may have a constant wave of nausea, or you may be praying to the porcelain gods. Seriously, keep food plain. Pasta is good and if you feel like a little bit of sauce, add just a little bit. Bread, crackers, tons of water, fresh fruits and veggies–these are the things you want to eat the most of. If you want meat keep it simply seasoned.

 

2) Don’t be afraid to eat the same thing over and over. When you find a food that you can handle you may be eating it several times in a week. For me it was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, unsweetened applesauce, and lots of tomato soup. It felt like for several days a week (minus a few where I did get cravings) these were my main staples. Just be prepared to stick to a regimen that you know your stomach can handle.

 

3) Go with your cravings if you get them. On the days that I would get a craving during my sick period, I went with it! My husband has started to understand that if I crave cheese fries or a chocolate milkshake, it’s good to cave to my craving. It means your body is obviously wanting something from that craving. For the milkshake it reminded me that I more than likely needed more calcium in my diet. With the fries I needed something more filling in my system than just fruits and veggies. You may pay for the cravings later but still go with it. In early pregnancy you can’t avoid the changes that are going on in your body. But more importantly: make sure that what you crave is okay to eat, so talk to your doctor about food “dos and don’ts”.

 

4) It is alright to not eat, but keep hydrated (and you can do this with more than just plain water)! I mean this especially since this was drilled into my head: water is vital. I went days eating minimal. I couldn’t help it when the thought of food would turn my stomach in the nastiest of ways. But water? Yes, you need that. You need that every day in mass quantities. If you’re like me you will get sick of just water, so it’s okay to change this up a little. To settle my stomach I had my Ginger Peach tea with some lemon and honey in the mornings and an occasional afternoon cup (using the same bag–because limiting caffeine is important). Juice with club soda or seltzer was a great way to cut the sugar down and get some light effervescence into my diet. And lemonade? Oh that is just a beautiful citrus bevvy that I would gladly drink every day!

 

5) Getting Sick = Healthy Baby. I can’t take credit for this adage but it’s important to share nonetheless. Every time I paid for my food choices I had to keep remembering that I was getting sick for a good reason: it means my body is producing the hormones needed to help the baby grow. Not everyone deals with morning sickness and some get it a bit too much, but for me it was a reminder that my little one is working hard to get to the proper size and that my body is always in a constant state of adjustment to accommodate that.

 

Whether these tips work for you or you find your own way, just remember that you know your body best. And once you get out of the morning sickness phase, be ready to eat with a vengeance! (Case in point: Matt walking into the house to find me eating a large order of cheese fries and a double Italian Hot Dog. The bit of ketchup I had on my face must have been quite endearing.) And most important for moms-to-be….

 

Enjoy every moment of it!

 

– Jenny V

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Francaise: Not just a chicken dish

While I am a healthy mix of nationalities (and according to my recent genealogy research a few I didn’t know about), I was practically raised by my dad’s side: mainly composed of English, German, and Italian family members. I can credit my family for being a key factor in my appreciation of food and cooking. And especially with Italian food, I have developed a rather particular palette. Because while I’m sure a good portion of the Italians I know would pick a tomato-based dish as their favorite, mine has always been and always will be Chicken Francaise. (Fortunately, the version of Francaise we made for this post does have tomato in it.)

In fact, I love Chicken Francaise so much that during my freshman year in college when the cafeteria had failed spectacularly in their attempt to make it (they added raisins and made it sweet….NEVER add raisins or make it sweet, it’s gross), I went home that weekend and asked my dad for an emergency dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. I still shudder thinking of those raisins….I stress that they should NEVER be added to a savory, lemony dish…:::shudders:::…but I digress.

About three years ago, approximately April of 2013, Matt and I opted for takeout from our favorite local Italian joint. I remember the date because Matt encouraged me to order anything and everything from the menu for reasons unbeknownst to me. It was after the fact that he admitted that that was the day him and his mom were in a jewelry store picking out my engagement ring. That day in particular, I had a craving for Shrimp Francaise. I had tried the chicken, I had even tried a flounder version from one of our favorite seafood restaurants. But shrimp? Never.

Fast forward to a few years later, Matt and I decided to try making Shrimp Francaise to add some new dishes to our repertoire. The end result was a delicious lemony and buttery seafood dream, with some fresh sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes that were bursting with flavor! Seriously, cooked cherry tomatoes–look into it and do it. And as for spinach, buy it fresh in bulk and you will yield many meals: a nice salad, a sandwich topping, and of course, cooked in Shrimp Francaise.

Fun plays on classic dishes are always a great way to spice up your culinary technique in the kitchen. This one is definitely a keeper.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn & Matt’s Shrimp Francaise 

1/2 lb. shrimp, cleaned & fully peeled

2 eggs, whisked

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 lemon, sliced thin 

1 container cherry tomatoes

1-2 healthy handfuls fresh spinach

1/2 cup white cooking wine

1 cup chicken broth

1 – 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon butter

1-2 tablespoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Salt, to taste

 

Directions:

1) In a small bowl, mix in eggs and tablespoon of lemon juice. In a small pan, mix flour, paprika, and black pepper. Dredge each shrimp through flour mixture, then egg mixture. Place shrimp in pan over medium high heat with a little oil in pan. Brown on each side and let it cook almost all the way through, then remove from pan.

2) Into pan, add tablespoon of flour and butter to create a roux, then add white wine, chicken broth, squeezed lemon juice, and tomatoes. Before the tomatoes begin to burst, add the spinach and shrimp. Place lemon slices over top.

3) Cook until spinach begins to wilt and  tomatoes burst. Remove from heat, season with salt if desired, and serve over pasta.

 

 

 

Spicy Tips: The Perfect Chicken Noodle Soup

Spoiler Alert: Be prepared for the onslaught of chicken dishes!

When the fall season hits, I can’t think of anything better than busting out the Crock Pot and making dishes that assault your sense of smell when you return from work that day. Also, the house just feels warmer and more inviting that way. Trust me, there’s nothing better than after a long day of being on the phone with an insurance company to argue a client’s claim, to walk in and smell the love that your dish has been making while you were away. It’s a calming force.

So before I wax poetic on slow cooking, let’s get back to the topic. Namely, Chicken Noodle Soup. I know we all have a recipe that we follow. We all have our own tricks and tips that personalize how we create this cold-weather classic. And so I want to share a few of my own, as there are a few helpful suggestions to guarantee positive results.

 
1) Make sure to flavor your broth!

When you’re sick, Chicken Noodle is simply the best soup (in my opinion) that can bring you out of that non-hunger phase and nourish your soul. It has the protein from the chicken, the vitamins from the vegetables, the noodles to help fill you up, and most importantly: that nice salty broth to break through your temporarily altered taste buds. So while I love adding a healthy dose of poultry seasoning, don’t forget salt and pepper! There’s nothing worse than all those delicious elements in a bland broth. And taste as you go….I cannot stress that enough.

 

2) If you can, make your own stock.

You can always buy chicken broth if you’re in a pinch, but I love making my own stock. When Matt & I purchase a whole chicken, we first roast it and eat the breast for dinner that night. Then, strip the meat off the chicken down to the bones, as the meat will be perfect for soup when you process and chop it. And in the Crock Pot, put that carcass in with enough water to cover the top of the bones, then lid on low and slow for 8-9 hours (and sometimes longer).

Once the carcass starts to fall apart in the stock, that’s a good sign. When done, remove the bones and my final move is to place a paper towel in the strainer and ladle in broth through that into a container. The stock will retain some fat, but this helps keep bone fragments out of your broth. Use a wooden spoon to push around the liquid to get it to strain. You may replace the paper towels a few times as eventually the fat will pool enough to where nothing gets through, but that’s okay. This is a messy (but rewarding) process. You get a clearer broth this way.

 

3) Saute your veggies before you put them in and make sure they’re fresh!

I keep my veggies standard: celery, onion, carrot. You can add fun ingredients like leeks or fennel, but I love the classics when it comes to chicken soup. Now, you can always just throw the veggies in raw and allow the slow cooking to do its magic, but I love getting a little bit of color on those veggies. You won’t necessarily get a bite of onion as it melts into the broth, but you will taste a hint of it. The carrots will practically melt in your mouth, as will the celery. You want to let them cook the longest in your broth.

So for the best result, a little bit of oil in a pan, saute for less than 5 minutes, and add the veggies first to the broth.

 

4) For best results, make the noodles separately (and keep them that way).

This is more a rule because Matt does not like soggy noodles. And it’s a good one! The noodles are always the final ingredient to add to the soup, because once they’re done the soup is done. And then once in the fridge, the noodles keep expanding the longer they sit. And instead of soup, you get this noodle dish with soup elements and minimal broth. So instead, I tried a new trick: I cooked the noodles alone, strained them, then placed them first in the bowl and ladled the soup over the top.

When I had to clean up and put the rest in the fridge, I made a decision to keep the noodles in a separate container. You get more control over the amount of noodles you want in your bowl, and the broth remains intact when you heat it up.

 

5) Low and slow is the best way to go!

I have forgotten the most important tip of all: the slow cooker is the best way to make Chicken Soup. Flavors are best when they have a chance to meet and meld for a while. You don’t want to rush this step and if you have the time, take it. The depth of flavor you can achieve from that low and slow technique is second to none.

 

And as always….enjoy!

– Jenny V

A “Creamy Italian” twist on a summer standard

When summer hits, Matt and I are notorious for the cold salads, as you could tell with my last post about potato salad.

But our main summer salad? Macaroni salad.

We never make it the same way twice, always just grabbing for whatever is on hand in the fridge to try and utilize our food in different ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as onion and celery, other times I toss in some pepper with the onion and maybe some artichoke, and sometimes I pull out some of our frozen veggies and toss a little broccoli and peas in.

This week I felt compelled to make an Italian-style salad with pepperoni, genoa salami, red pepper, and fresh mozzarella. Now normally I would add Italian dressing to the mix, but if you’re like me, this salad is always subject to all the ingredients (minus the pasta) dropping to the bottom of the bowl. And the more you mix, the more it goes.

But not this time. I was determined to incorporate Italian flavors from the dressing and create a cohesive dish. And it hit me: Creamy Italian Dressing! When I make a mayo-based macaroni salad the ingredients never fall to the bottom. Instead, the mayo acts as a cohesive and creates the perfect blend ratio of pasta to its edible accoutrements.

And I must say, it was a success! To add a little more zip, you can always whisk in a little bit of the regular Italian dressing. Trust me, the Creamy Italian will still do its thing. More importantly, before you serve, always make sure to add just a little dollop more of the Creamy Italian Dressing. When sitting in the fridge, the pasta has a tendency to sop up a lot of the liquid, so that little dollop rejuvenates the dish a little bit.

As always, enjoy!

– Jenny V


 

 

Jenn’s Creamy Italian Macaroni Salad

1 box rotini pasta, cooked and drained

1/4 – 1/2 cup pepperoni, diced

1/4 – 1/2 cup genoa salami, diced

1/2 container fresh mozzarella, quartered

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup vidalia onion, diced

1/2 cup Creamy Italian Dressing

1/4 cup Italian Dressing

Italian Seasoning

 

Directions:

1) In a large bowl, add pasta, pepperoni, salami, mozzarella, red pepper, and onion. Mix.

2) In a 2-cup measuring cup, add Creamy Italian and Italian dressing. Whisk together until smooth.

3) Add dressing over pasta and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle Italian Seasoning over mixture, just a few taps, and mix.

4) Cover and refrigerate minimum 4 hours to overnight before serving.

Giving potato salad a face-lift

When I think about making potato salad, it tends to make me break out in a sweat. Because while the finished product looks easy enough, just the notion that the potato needs to be perfectly cooked enough where a fork can go through it, but not crumble….is daunting. But Matt had faith in me this week as he played a double on Monday and left a request for potato salad on my plate. And I was not about to let him down in the slightest.

To make potato salad, red potatoes are truly the best one. They’re durable and you can pretty much leave the skin on them when you cut them into bite-sized pieces. Just make sure each potato is washed thoroughly and that any eyes or bad spots are removed. And especially since we needed to move the last of our red potatoes, it was a win-win.

Place your bite-sized pieces into a pot of cold water on high heat and let it come up to a boil. To check if they’re cooked through, try to locate the largest piece and stick a fork in it. If the fork goes through with ease, then they’re done. And if you’re nervous like me, after you check the potato, turn off the heat and let the potatoes sit in the hot water for a minute or two. Trust me, they’re still cooking when you do this.

Since our fridge was a little more barren of the essentials to make potato salad, I learned to get creative. This is quite typical in our home when making a multi-layered type salad. (Seriously, watch me make a garden salad or macaroni salad and you’ll understand.) I kinda think of it like a “hodge podge” dish, so to speak.

Because instead of yellow onions, I used the remainder of green onions that we had from our last shopping trip. Celery was replaced by fennel stalks. And for a little pop of color, some diced red bell pepper.

The only thing I think it’s missing? Hard-boiled egg. I may need to attempt this version sooner rather than later.

If you’re willing to get over your fears, it’s amazing what you can accomplish in the kitchen. Matt believes I don’t give myself enough credit. And with this potato salad recipe, I’m sort of inclined to believe him.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

  

Jenn’s “Hodge Podge” Potato Salad

6-7 medium red potatoes, cubed

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 tablespoon honey dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 tablespoon pepper

2 fennel stalks, diced (you want about a cup)

1/2 diced red bell pepper

1/4 – 1/2 cup green onion, chopped

Paprika, if desired

 

Directions:

1) Place cubed potatoes in 3-quart pan in cold water. Cover and heat to boiling. Allow potatoes to continue cooking in boiling water until larger pieces of potato are soft enough to let a fork go through. Turn off heat and allow to sit in water another 1-2 minutes before draining thoroughly and placing in large bowl.

2) Mix mayonnaise, vinegar, mustards, salt, and pepper in a large measuring cup or bowl. Whisk until smooth.

3) Add fennel, green onion, and pepper to potato mixture. Add dressing and stir thoroughly to cover. Add sprinkle of paprika and continue mixing. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight before serving.

 

Going “Swiss” on a classic….

If there’s one thing Matt knows about me, it’s that I have a love for certain foods.

Pickles, Fried Chicken, Sushi, Mashed Potatoes, Cauliflower, a nice rare Steak, Fresh Berries, and most importantly…..Macaroni & Cheese.

I know, not all my options are exactly healthy, per se, but I love my comfort foods just the same. There’s a decadence in them that I only indulge in when I am in need. (i.e., womanly issues, long day at work, etc.) I’m not one to reach for mountains of chocolate. I’m more the one to reach for a nice heaping bowl of mashed potatoes or homemade mac….and sometimes the occasional delivery of sushi.

But Macaroni & Cheese can occasionally get boring, so playing with the flavor combinations are quite fun when you get the chance.

For Valentine’s Day, Matt and I are not big on going out and spending an exorbitant amount of money on a meal we can make at home. No. In fact, we prefer to cook that decadent meal in the comfort of our home.

I had been toying around with the idea of a Bacon & Swiss Mac & Cheese for a while now. While I’m not a fan of cold Swiss (like my husband with a roast beef sandwich), melting it has yielded some tasty meals, namely Chicken Cordon Bleu. So why not to Macaroni & Cheese as well?

Adding the shredded Swiss to the roux and milk mixture proved to be a delicious change: the bite of Swiss was tempered with grated Parmesan cheese and the saltiness of the bacon. The combination provided decadent flavors to a rather inexpensive meal. (And Swiss is a nice alternative to Gruyere, which can run you about $30/lb….indulge only when it will make or break the dish!)

Sometimes our favorites need a little bit of a facelift….and the result can be quite delicious!

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

baconswissmaccheese

Jenn’s Bacon Swiss Macaroni & Cheese

1 box elbow macaroni

1 package shredded Swiss cheese

1/4 – 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 1/2 – 3 cups milk

2 Tablespoons butter

1 – 2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 package bacon, cooked until crispy and chopped into bits

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1/8 block Velveeta, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Directions:

1) Prepare pasta to “al dente”. Drain well and place in large glass baking dish. Sprinkle almost all bacon over the pasta and save a little bit for topping, probably around 1-2 Tablespoons.

2) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In saucepan on medium heat, combine butter and flour to create a roux, then gradually add in milk. When milk starts to thicken, add in Swiss , Parmesan, and Velveeta, stirring until cheese has melted. Add in salt and pepper to taste. Once at desired flavor, remove from heat. (**Save a little bit of Swiss and Parmesan for topping**)

3) Pour sauce mixture over macaroni & bacon, mixing thoroughly until sauce coats all pasta. Sprinkle remaining cheese, bacon, and bread crumbs over the top, then bake in oven for 30-40 minutes. Remove and serve.

Turning tea up to a calming notch…

I’m really becoming a big advocate of the freshly-brewed iced tea movement. While in childhood I did enjoy the mix (4C all the way), I am coming to find as I get older, I crave homemade iced tea more than water (only sometimes….er, maybe more than sometimes.)

The complexities of the flavor, the way the right amount of lemon slice and honey added could make or break that “perfect taste”….I’m an addict through and through.

Now, I’ve also come to love my French Lavender and its delicious (and soothing) qualities in my iced tea, so I sought out another freshly-brewed combination to incorporate said flavor. I was about ready to give up until in the back of my pantry, I located an unopened box (unopened?!? How did I miss it?) of Lemon & Ginger tea bags. And just like with all my teas, I decided to do a mixture of the Lemon & Ginger with some green tea to incorporate some soothing notes to that kick of citrus & spice. The end result being that my house smelled beyond heavenly and refreshing!

I had considered adding fresh ginger to the tea, but after consideration, I wanted to test out a batch without overloading my taste buds with that potent ginger flavor (and for those of you who have tried fresh ginger before, you know exactly what I mean!)

So my advice to you: if you want to add a kick to your tea (but not too much), temper it with a nice soothing flavor. You can’t go wrong.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


  Jenn’s “Om, Snap!” Iced Green Tea

10 bags Lemon & Ginger Tea

10 bags Green Tea

1 1/2 teaspoons French Lavender

1/4 cup honey

20-22 cups water

Directions:

1) In a large stock pot, put in water on high heat. Just before boiling, add in French Lavender in infuser ball.

2) When water is boiling, whisk in honey to incorporate (you can always add more if you’d like) and tea bags. Turn off heat, cover, and move off burner to allow to cool.

3) After 1-2 hours, transfer to pitcher and/or mason jars. Refrigerate overnight. Serve with lemon slice.

Taking Stock to a whole new level….

It’s been a while….and we have been cooking up new recipes non-stop!

But more importantly, Matt & I have been sticking to our main lot in life in the kitchen: whatever we make, we try to make homemade. (Except for dairy products, although I am determined to learn how to make fresh mozzarella as soon as I can locate a fairly easy recipe!)

So let’s talk stock….even though I have talked about it at least once or twice before.

Chicken is the easiest one, of course! You get a whole roaster chicken and once you’ve cooked it for one meal, strip it as bare to the bones as you can, Crock Pot it with some onion, fresh herbs & seasonings (thyme, bay leaf, poultry seasoning), and cover the carcass with water….then you lid it, put it on low, and let the gatherings of deliciousness come together! Trust me on this, you will never go back to plain old chicken broth once you have made your own.

You can also do seafood rather easily too, especially if you have shrimp shells and fish bones! (I’ve tried the shrimp shells….it’s definitely an easy way to go and doesn’t require much time to make. And in a seafood soup or stew? YUMMY!)

But my newest favorite concoction? BEEF.

Yes, beef stock (if you cook with bone-in meats) can be quite delicious! And don’t be afraid to add the fat in there as well….the more flavor you can infuse into that stock, the better. And that fat has LOTS of flavor.

Matt and I had prime rib bones to work with (thanks to leftovers from Easter) and so with some bones, red cooking wine, herbs, and a whole lotta love, we created the most delicious stock to date! (You can ask my husband, he will wholeheartedly agree that this was the best stock he’s ever tasted….the proof in how quickly the Beef Noodle Soup we created did not last a week.)

While I do not have a picture of the process, I will have to make do with locating a picture of the soup:

But if you’d like my process….here’s my take on beef stock a la Vintzileos!

And as always, ENJOY!

~ Jenny V


Beef Stock

Ingredients:

Bones (Prime Rib, Steak, Roast, etc. If you’ve had a beef dish and there are bones, don’t be afraid to use them!)

1 cup red cooking wine

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme

2-3 cloves garlic (optional)

1-2 bay leaves

8-10 cups water (possibly more, but it has to be enough to cover the bones completely)

1 medium onion, sliced 

Directions:

1) In a Crock Pot, place the sliced onion along the bottom of the pot.

2) Add the bones, wine, herbs, and garlic, finishing with the water.

3) Turn the Crock Pot on low, cover with lid, and cook at least 8 hours. (My trick is to put the stock on an hour or two before bed, that way when I wake up in the morning, I turn it off and let it start to cool while I get ready for work. Remember, the longer you let those flavors meld, the better your stock will turn out!)

When in Doubt….just stuff it!

Being busy, I haven’t always had time to sit and write about the latest recipe/concoction. (Thanks multiple jobs/friends I am getting to see post-wedding madness!) That doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking….quite the contrary!

But that is neither here nor there and so….let’s talk about chicken breast. Matt & I don’t necessarily prefer cooking with chicken breast, mainly because there’s such a small window to perfection on it. (And unless it’s on sale, it’s not worth spending an exorbitant amount of money to have it in the house.) It can becomes time-consuming to prep (which is why I have my husband filet the breast….something I have yet to even try perfecting. He makes it look sooooooo easy!) And unlike it’s counterpart, dark meat, chicken breast is prone to drying out very quickly. So whenever we have it in our fridge (because sometimes the sale is just too good to pass up), we get creative.

Stir-fry, homemade chicken nuggets, and our personal favorite, Chicken Cordon Bleu, are just a few of the ways that we prepare the breast other than seasoning and grilling it. But I’m bored of all our standards, so in true creative fashion….I took to the idea of stuffing the chicken with cheese and broccoli! We had the ingredients, we had the time, and we were also adventurous enough to think outside of how we normally prepare the elusive white meat.

Now I know it’s been done, but our version became so easy to make, complete with a Mornay sauce and some deep-fried bacon on top….do I even need to say more on how delicious this was? (Especially when there was nothing left?!?)

And just a quick tip: if you deep-fry bacon, partially cook it first. Also, if you deep-fry the whole package of bacon and have leftovers….make bacon bits with it! Homemade bacon bits are delicious…..trust me on this.

Meals don’t always have to be the same-old standard. If you’re willing to get a little daring and try a variation on a recipe that you’ve made before….DO IT.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


stuffedchickenwbacon

 

Jenn’s Stuffed Chicken Breast

Ingredients:

3 large chicken breasts, butterflied and pounded thin

1/2 package frozen chopped broccoli (slightly thawed so you can break it apart to stuff chicken)

1 to 1 1/4 cup shredded cheese (depending on how much cheesiness you like!)

Bread Crumbs (optional)

Egg (optional)

Salt

Pepper

For the Sauce:

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon butter

Nutmeg

1 1/4 cup milk

Parmesan Cheese

For the “garnish”:

6 pieces partially cooked bacon

 

1) Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and with filleted chicken breasts, lay them flat on a baking pan. Lightly salt and pepper the inside, then take the partially thawed broccoli and shredded cheese, distributing them equally towards one side of the chicken breast. Roll, then tuck the sides in and arrange chicken breasts neatly in the baking pan. (Optional: you can baste with egg, then use bread crumb to sprinkle on the top.) Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Remove when done and let sit for 1-2 minutes.

***Helpful hint***: You can usually tell stuffed chicken breast is cooked through when the middle is bubbling out. It means the heat has gotten all the way through the meat and cooked it.

2) About 5 minutes before the chicken is done, turn on the deep fryer on high to warm for the bacon (or pan to finish cooking bacon through….you want that garnish crispy!)

3) While the fryer is warming, in a small saucepan on medium heat, combine the butter and flour to create a roux, then add milk to the roux. Stir with a whisk to incorporate. Add a few pinches of nutmeg (trust me, a little goes a LONG way here) and when the sauce starts to bubble a little, add the parmesan cheese to thicken it up. Stir, then remove from heat.

4) This garnish is optional, but once deep fryer is up to desired temperature, drop in the bacon for roughly 1 minute. Seriously, not long, because the bacon is already partially cooked and this will turn extra crispy extra quick. After about a minute, remove bacon and put on plate covered with paper towel to cool down and crisp up.

5) When plating, first put down the chicken, then ladle sauce (as much or as little as you’d like) over the chicken, topping with two pieces of bacon.

This meatloaf would make you do anything for love….

If there’s one dish my husband believes I make the best…it’s meatloaf. Before I really started cooking, this was one recipe that had stuck with me from when my mom would cook dinner (without burning anything.) And one night, on a whim, I decided to try it on Matt. Like me, prior to this recipe, I had such an aversion to meatloaf. I’ve seen it doused in more tomato sauce/ketchup than I could stomach…and I love tomatoes! (Just not in meatloaf.)

So if you’re a non-tomato meatloaf person like me, then you can understand the sheer joy I felt when I took my first bite of this delectably flavorful dish. In fact, I’ll almost guarantee that your reaction could resemble that of my husband when he initially (and a little reluctantly) tried my meatloaf….his eyes bugged out like a cartoon character and he went back for seconds! (Later he proclaimed “you’re holding out on me”….and thus started my cooking tutelage.) In part, I guess I can thank this recipe for jump-starting several tasty concoctions and personal cooking/baking challenges. (And you might thank me too, especially when you try it! During the winter, I must make this dish at least 1-2 times a month. With all the things we cook, that’s saying a lot.)

(It’s also great when you want to re-heat it, trust me….it’s even better.)

Normally, I would pair this dish with some tasty egg noodles (and of course, brown gravy!), but since we had some white potatoes to move since we used the rest to make homemade french fries (and freeze them to use as needed), why not whip up some mashed potatoes? And while they’re no Yukon Gold or Red Bliss, it’s super easy to make them creamy and delicious! (And as for gravy, if you have a recipe, use it! If not, I recommend Heinz Beef or Pork Gravy.)

Sometimes in cooking, I have come to the conclusion that you don’t always need to be armed with a ton of recipes. Whether you’re a good cook or a bad one, we all have that one recipe that we have mastered. And I’m sure if Randy from A Christmas Story could try this one….he would quit saying “I hate meatloaf!”

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


meatloaf

Jenn’s “Rockstar” Meatloaf with Homemade Mashed Potatoes

For meatloaf:

2-3 pounds meatloaf mix (if you can’t find meatloaf mix, you can use beef. If you want to make meatloaf mix, use ground beef, pork, and veal)

One packet Onion Soup Mix

Worcestershire Sauce

1 egg

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1-1 1/2 cups shredded cheese

For mashed potatoes:

4-5 large potatoes, scrubbed and cubed small

2 heaping tablespoons sour cream

1/3 to 1/2 cup Milk or heavy cream 

1/2 stick butter, cut into four pieces

Salt

Pepper

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for meatloaf and mix well using hands. Add Worcestershire Sauce to your taste. (I never measure for Worcestershire, because it’s preference, so just add as much or as little as you want. It all depends on how much salt you want in the mix. And yes, Onion Soup Mix….because when the dried onions re-hydrate, they have that meat flavor!) Place mix into loaf pan (glass or metal), push into the pan (especially the corners), then place in oven for about 1 – 1 1/4 hours.

2) When meatloaf is about halfway cooked, fill pot with water halfway for potatoes and place on stove. Make sure potatoes are scrubbed clean before being cubed, skin left on. (And if there are any “eyes” or brown spots in the potatoes, don’t forget to get rid of them!) As each potato is cubed, place cubes in cold water. Once all potatoes are processed and in the pot, turn on high and cover, checking periodically. When water starts boiling, remove lid and keep cooking until potato breaks apart when fork is stuck into it; if done, drain water and place potatoes back into pot.

3) Combine butter, milk, and sour cream in with potatoes, then using a masher mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. (And don’t be afraid to season!) Set aside and cover. (If the potatoes are done before meatloaf, you can heat it up after meatloaf comes out. Just place back on stove on medium to high heat, continually stirring for 2-3 minutes)

4) Once meatloaf is done, remove from oven and using a steak knife, go around inside of pan and separate meatloaf from the sides (because the cheese normally makes it stick a little to the pan.) If done right, the meatloaf should come out in one solid loaf; transfer to a place and slice as thick (or thin) a slice as desired. Serve with potatoes and gravy. (Or no gravy…it’s up to you!)