Last Minute Stuffed Peppers

Baking has always come naturally to me, cooking on the other hand is a whole other ballgame. I’m always apprehensive that I will under season or worse over season things, but lately I have become a bit more confident (or maybe I should say comfortable) with my cooking abilities. There is one thing that still frustrates me though… Figuring out what to cook, especially for dinner. As such was the case one day last week. I really was at a lost as to what to make, then while picking up some produce the light bulb in my head turned on and I thought stuffed peppers…. Hence Last Minute Stuffed Peppers. Customarily for a dish like this I would turn to a recipe, but I decided to wing it and create something on my own and a bit from memory from the last time I made them.

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I began making the filling for the peppers by sautéing sliced mushrooms in olive oil. Once they cooled I chopped them up and placed them in a large bowl.

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In the same pan I used to sauté the mushrooms I then cooked a pound of ground beef which I seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder and half a red onion chopped. I then added this to the bowl with the mushrooms.

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I then added in a cup and a half of cooked brown rice to the mushroom meat mixture. To cook the brown rice I opted to use the 30 Minute Cooking Method; you bring a large pot of water to boil, stir in at most 2 cups of brown rice, bring the water to a boil once again and allow the rice to cook uncovered for 30 minutes.

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And finally I added in about 1/3 cup of jarred spaghetti sauce and a 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese to the rice mixture. I mixed it together well and set it aside.

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Next I prepped the peppers. I sliced the tops off the peppers and cleaned out their insides while I brought a large pot of water to boil. I boiled each of the peppers for about 4-5 minutes. I wanted the peppers to be tender but still a bit rigid so they wouldn’t tear when I stuffed them. I placed them in an 8 x 8 baking dish that I coated with about half of the sauce I had left in the jar.

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I then filled each of the peppers with the rice-beef mixture and topped them with the rest of the sauce and sprinkled each of them with the remaining shredded mozzarella cheese. And for the final touch I topped each of the peppers with their respective sliced tops.

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I placed the dish in a 350 F preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until the cheese was melted and I was sure that the filling had enough time to heat through.

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Prior to enjoying one I sliced it in half and added some of the spaghetti sauce that was in the bottom of the dish. Oh yes, and I added some extra vegetables to this dish by serving it with fresh okra on the side.

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My Last Minute Stuffed Peppers were delish! Definitely something that I will be making again. And best of all, it gave me a small boost in my cooking confidence.

 

Last Minute Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients:

4 large bell peppers, any color

3 cups (8 oz. package) sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons Olive Oil

1 lb. lean ground beef (I used 80%)

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice

1 jar of spaghetti sauce

1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

 

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms until they are tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove them from the skillet and once they cool chop them up and place them in a large bowl.

3. In the same skillet, cook the ground beef along with onion and season with the salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder. Once the beef is cooked add it to the bowl with the mushrooms.

4. Add the brown rice to the bowl with the beef and mushrooms along with 1/3 cup of the spaghetti sauce and 1/2 cup of the shredded mozzarella. Mix the contents together and set aside.

5. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile prep the peppers by slicing off their tops (set them aside) and cleaning out their seeds. Once the water is boiling add the peppers and leave them in the water for about 5 minutes; until the peppers are softened but not to the point where they are going to tear when stuffed.

6. Pour about 1/2 of the remaining spaghetti sauce into an 8 x 8 baking dish and then place the peppers in it. Fill each of the peppers with the rice – beef mixture, filling each of the peppers to the top. Pour the remaining spaghetti sauce over the peppers and top each of the peppers with the remaining mozzarella cheese. Cover the peppers with their reserved tops and bake them in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

Pesto Chicken Packets

As I mentioned in a previous post I was rained-in last week and went on a bit of a cooking binge making a Chicken Corn Chowder, a Meyer Lemon Yogurt Cake and a Pesto Sauce; the latter of which I finally put to good use and made Pesto Chicken Packets – a recipe I came across in an issue of Rachael Ray Magazine a few years back. Let me take a few steps back though and go over how I made the Pesto Sauce.

To make the sauce I combined 3 cups of basil, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, a garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper in the bowl of a food processor.

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I pulsed the ingredients until they were combined.

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And then let the machine run while I drizzled 2/3 cup of olive oil into the mixture.

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After transferring the mixture to a bowl I stirred in a 1/4 cup of freshly grated of Parmesan cheese.

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Since I wasn’t using the Pesto Sauce immediately I stored it in an airtight container in my refrigerator. After being in the fridge for a few days I added a little more olive oil to the top of it to make sure it would stay fresh. And when I was ready to use it was perfect.

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On to the Pesto Chicken Packets…

Along with the chicken and pesto, I also needed zucchini, plum tomatoes and scallions for the recipe.

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I prepped the vegetables by slicing the zucchini, chopping the tomatoes and trimming the scallions.

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Then it was time to prep the chicken packets for the oven. I drizzled about a teaspoon of olive oil in the center of a 12-inch long sheet of aluminum foil and placed a thin-sliced chicken breast seasoned with salt and pepper on top of it. I then spread about a tablespoon of the pesto over the chicken.

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Next it was time to cover the chicken with about a handful of the sliced zucchini and chopped tomatoes and a few of the scallions. Prior to closing the packets I also dolloped about two tablespoons of the pesto on top.

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I placed all of the packets on a baking sheet and baked them in a 355 F preheated oven for 40 minutes.

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And voila, they were perfectly cooked in that time. This is definitely a great recipe for chicken as the juices of the zucchini, tomatoes and of course the pesto produces a chicken breast that is perfectly juicy and flavorful. I served them with brown rice and no worries I did take the chicken along with all of its components out the aluminum packet prior to eating it. How else was I going to be able to mix all the wonderful juices in with my rice?

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Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 garlic clove

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

 

Directions:

1. Place the basil, pine nuts, basil, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.

2. While the machine is running drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides.

3. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese.

 

Pesto Chicken Packets

Ingredients:

Extra-Virgin olive oil, for drizzling

5 Thinly sliced skinless and boneless chicken breasts

Salt and Pepper

1 cup Pesto

2 zucchini, thinly sliced

4 plum tomatoes, chopped

10 scallions, trimmed

 

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 355 F. Cut five 12-inch long sheets of heavy-duty foil. Drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil in the center of each sheet.

2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Lay 1 piece of chicken in the center of each sheet and spread 1 tablespoon pesto on top.

3. Mound a handful of the zucchini and tomatoes over each chicken breast along with two pieces of scallion. Dollop a few tablespoons pesto over each mound. Fold the foil over the chicken and vegetables; pinch the edges to seal.

4. Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes.

Chicken Corn Chowder

Many people don’t think of summer as the time to eat soup, but, some of the best soups can be made during the warmer months. Especially with the bounty of vegetables that are in-season. Just think of the amazing soups that can be made with watermelon, tomatoes and corn – all three of which have their peak season during the summer. A few years ago I made a Corn Chowder after attending a culinary event at a local Williams-Sonoma and I saw a Corn Zipper used and knew I had to have one. Well, that Corn Zipper has been sitting in a utensil drawer ever since then until last week when thinking of what to make for dinner I saw it and instantly knew what I wanted to make… Chicken Corn Chowder. Just in case you are wondering, a Corn Zipper is exactly what it sounds like, a tool that allows you to zip corn kernels right off of the cob. It’s much easier and safer than using a knife! As luck – or not so lucky depending on how you look at it – would have it I ended up making this chowder on a rainy day last week that resulted in some heavy flooding in my area so I was essentially rained-in. Hence, I took advantage of the day and also made a pesto sauce and a Meyer Lemon Yogurt Cake which I will be posting about within the next day or two.

Along with corn, the other vegetables I added to the chowder were celery, carrots, onion and potatoes.

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My lovely corn once it was shucked. I lucked out with picking perfect corn just by touch because it was way too crowded in the corn area of my supermarket to shuck it there.

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Here are the chicken and vegetables prepped and ready to go. I poached the chicken thighs in chicken stock along with salt, pepper and some spices (onion powder, garlic powder and oregano) for about 40 minutes. More than likely I cooked it longer than need be but since it was in liquid it didn’t dry out or anything. I diced up the celery, a carrot and the onion and mixed it together along with a minced garlic clove. And finally I cut two potatoes leaving them in large chunks so they wouldn’t break down while cooking.

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Using a large Dutch oven I began by sautéing the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in melted butter for two minutes – this is more or less a mirepoix. A true mirepoix calls for two parts onion and one part each of carrot and celery.

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I then added in a 1/2 cup of flour and stirred the mixture to make a roux. Once the roux had browned I set it aside and let it cool to room temperature.

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While the roux was cooling I combined the corn, potatoes and 3 cups of chicken stock in a pot and brought it to a boil and then let it simmer for about 15 minutes. My gauge for the cooking time was the tenderness of the potatoes. I didn’t want them to be completely cooked through, but, I wanted them pretty close to being done. I then added the chicken stock mixture to the roux – a little at a time – whisking it briskly so it wouldn’t get lumpy and then returned it to the heat and brought it to a boil.

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Once the chowder came together – it was thick – I then heated 2 cups of half-and-half in a small saucepan and added it along with the chicken to the chowder and some salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. I let it simmer for about another 15-20 minutes so the chicken could heat through and the potatoes could finish cooking. This chowder was absolutely delicious and even better the next day.

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Chicken Corn Chowder – Adapted from here

Ingredients:

3 cups chicken stock

2 cups half-and-half

2 cups cooked chicken, cut into pieces (I poached two chicken thighs, but you could easily use a store bought cooked rotisserie chicken)

3 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (I used 4 ears of corn)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 clove garlic, minced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

2 potatoes, cut into chunks

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Pinch of nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

1. If you are choosing to cook your own chicken, prepare it whichever way you like. You could use leftovers or as I did simply poach the chicken with chicken stock and spices.

2. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven (or a large pot) over medium heat. Add the onions, carrot, celery and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the flour and stir to make a roux. Cook until the roux I lightly browned and then set aside to cool to room temperature.

3. In another pot combine the corn, potatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Add this to the roux slowly, whisking it so it doesn’t lump. Return the pot to the heat and bring it to a boil. The mixture should become very thick.

4. In a small saucepan, gently heat the half-and-half; stir it into the chowder along with the cooked chicken. Add the nutmeg and the salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat so the chowder can simmer and so the potatoes can finish cooking and the chicken can heat through.

5. Enjoy!

 

 

Chicken Spaghetti Casserole

You ever have something so delicious at someone else’s house that you can’t wait to make it yourself? That’s what happened to me this week. Over the weekend I had Chicken Spaghetti casserole at a friend’s house and instantly knew I had to make it myself. So, when I had some leftover chicken from dinner the other night I knew exactly what I would be using it for.

First up I got all of my ingredients prepped and together: 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, 1/3 cup of diced green and red bell peppers, two cooked chicken thighs shredded, half an onion diced, a can of cream of mushroom soup and spaghetti (I used only half of this one pound box). I should note that my measurements versus the original recipe are different since I opted to halve my version.

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After cooking the spaghetti – I broke it into thirds prior to adding it to the boiling water- I mixed it with all of the ingredients minus 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Prior to draining the spaghetti I reserved about 2 cups of the water from which I added about a cup to the mixture so it wouldn’t be too dry.

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I then poured the mixture into a greased 8 x 8 baking dish and topped it with the remaining shredded cheese

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And finally after baking it for 30 minutes in a 350F pre-heated oven it was ready and just as delicious as the first time I had it!

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The original recipe…

Chicken Spaghetti

Recipe courtesy of Ree Drummond

Total Time: 1 hr. 40 min

Prep: 20 min

Cook: 1 hr. 20 min

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

1 whole raw chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1 pound thin spaghetti, broken into 2-inch pieces

2 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar

1/4 cup finely diced green bell pepper

1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Two 10 3/4-ounce cans cream of mushroom soup

1 medium onion, finely diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chicken pieces to the boiling water and boil for a few minutes, and then turn the heat to medium-low and simmer, 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove the chicken and 2 cups of the chicken cooking broth from the pot. When the chicken is cool, remove the skin and pick out the meat (a mix of dark and white) to make 2 generous cups. Discard the bones and skin.

Cook the spaghetti in the chicken cooking broth until al dente. Do not overcook. When the spaghetti is cooked, combine with the chicken, 1 1/2 cups of the cheese, the green peppers, red peppers, seasoned salt, cayenne, soup and onions, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup of the reserved chicken cooking broth, adding an additional cup if needed.

Place the mixture in a 9- by 13-inch casserole pan and top with the remaining 1 cup cheese. Bake immediately until bubbly, about 45 minutes. (If the cheese on top starts to get too dark, cover with foil.)

Thanksgiving Wrap-Up

So I ate the last of my Thanksgiving leftovers yesterday and they were definitely good while they lasted. Ironically cooking a turkey on Thanksgiving has never intimidated me like cooking on an everyday basis used to. Go figure! I would like to say that I turned those turkey leftovers into something creative, but, that just never happened (although I did have a thought or two about it.)

Along with my turkey (which I must say came out really juicy and tasty thanks to brining and an herbed butter rub)…

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I also made a Sweet Potato Casserole (it was the first time I ever made one and it will definitely become a staple of mine), Williams-Sonoma’s Focaccia Stuffing and Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions…

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And in my opinion Thanksgiving is just not complete without some Cranberry Sauce.

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For dessert I decided to make a Pumpkin Pecan Pie. I usually just make a plain old Pumpkin Pie but after seeing a recipe that included pecans I was intrigued to try it. In all honesty I didn’t particularly care for that recipe so originally I decided to add pecans to the usual recipe I follow for Pumpkin Pie, but, I decided this year to try out Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie recipe. They are known for their packed pumpkin in cans so I figured they should know a thing or two about turning that into a delicious pie.

To start I toasted about 1/2 cup of chopped pecans on a lightly greased baking sheet in a 350 degrees preheated oven for five minutes. After they cooled I scattered them on the bottom of a deep-dish pie shell. I took a major short-cut and opted to buy a frozen pie crust.

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Next, I made the pumpkin filling by beating 2 large eggs in a bowl and then adding in the pumpkin and a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves. And then I gradually stirred in a can of evaporated milk.

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And finally I poured that into the pecan covered pie crust and baked it for fifteen minutes in a 425 degrees preheated oven and then dropped the temperature to 350 degrees and baked it for another forty-five minutes.

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I loved the texture the pecans added to the pie as well as the nutty flavor.

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And while many were out scoring Black Friday deals I opted to stay in and work on some Christmas crafts… Stay tuned!

Quesadilla Casserole

I was running out of ideas of what to make for dinner – I’m a much more creative baker than cook – so I turned to one of the McCormick Recipe Creations I had in my cabinet and opted for a Quesadilla Casserole. The ingredients were basic, it seemed super quick and most importantly it sounded delicious.

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To start I gathered all of my ingredients together.

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Up first I chopped the onion and cooked it with the ground beef until it was browned.

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After draining the beef and onion mixture I added in two cans of tomato sauce, a can of black beans (drained and rinsed), a can of corn (undrained), and a can of chopped green chiles (undrained).

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After mixing that together I then added in all of the spices: chili powder, ground cumin, minced garlic and oregano leaves.

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I brought the mixture to a boil and then lowered the heat from medium-high to low and let it simmer for five minutes.

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Now it was time to assemble the casserole. I began by spreading 1/2 cup of the beef mixture into a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish which I sprayed with a non-stick baking spray.

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I then topped that with three 8-inch flour tortillas.

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To complete the first layer of the casserole I topped the tortillas with half of the remaining beef mixture and then one cup of shredded cheddar cheese.

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I made the second layer by repeating the tortilla, beef & cheese order.

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I baked the casserole in a 350 degrees pre-heated oven for 15 minutes and then let it rest for 5 minutes before digging in. It was a hit… This recipe is definitely a keeper and thankfully uses spices that I currently have in my cabinet so there’s no need for the recipe packet next time.

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Quesadilla Casserole

2 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 tsp. oregano leaves

1 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

2 cans (8 oz. each) tomato sauce

1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can (8 3/4 oz.) whole kernel corn, undrained

1 can (4 1/2 oz.) chopped green chiles, undrained

6 flour tortillas (8-inch)

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

1/2 tsp. red pepper (optional)

1. Brown beef and onion in large skillet on medium-high heat; drain. Add tomato sauce, beans, corn and green chiles; mix well. Stir in all of the spices except red pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes. Add red pepper to taste, if desired.

2. Spread 1/2 cup of the beef mixture on bottom of 13x9x2- inch baking dish sprayed with no-stick cooking spray. Top with 3 of the tortillas, overlapping as needed. Layer with 1/2 of the remaining beef mixture and 1/2 of the cheese. Repeat with remaining tortillas, beef mixture and cheese.

3. Bake in preheated 350F oven 15 minutes or until heated through. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

 

One Can of Crushed Tomatoes = Two Meals

One item in my kitchen that is completely underutilized is my slow cooker. It’s one of those kitchen items that doesn’t ever seem to make it on to a coveted kitchen counter spot so it’s usually in a cabinet somewhere behind other things, at least that’s where it lives in my kitchen. It’s not like I forget I have it, it’s just getting it out involves moving quite a few things. Nevertheless it’s always worth the effort.

While at my local Barnes & Noble recently I picked up a slow cooker recipe book and immediately went through it and flagged some recipes that I wanted to try. I’m a bit of an organized nerd when it comes to cookbooks… I go through them and flag the recipes I want to try with mini post-its and then write down the recipes on another post-it and stick it in the front of the book.

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This time around I decided to try out the slow cooker version of Country Captain Chicken. In all honesty prior to writing this post I wasn’t aware that it was a traditional recipe found in the Southern part of the United States. I thought it was just something that was created for the cook book. Oops! To start I sautéed a green bell pepper, onion, celery and garlic with olive oil over medium-high heat until the vegetables were tender. I then placed that in the bottom of my slow cooker.

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I then browned chicken thighs, which I coated with flour, and placed them on top of the vegetables inside of the slow cooker.

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I then poured water into the skillet where I cooked the vegetables and chicken and scraped up any brown bits that were left in the pan. While the recipe called for chicken broth I didn’t want to open up a whole can of broth when I just needed a 1/4 cup of it. I poured this over the chicken and then added in the rest of my ingredients: crushed tomatoes, raisins, curry powder, salt, paprika and black pepper. The recipe only called for 2 cups of crushed tomatoes and unfortunately crushed tomatoes only come in 28 oz. cans (Does anyone know where I can find them smaller?) so I had about 2 cups of tomatoes leftover which I refrigerated for a later day.

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I covered this up and let it cook on low for 3 hours and one of the perks of cooking with a slow cooker is the wonderful aroma that fills your house from it. The final product was delicious and went perfectly with just some plain white rice.

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Country Captain Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs

2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 large onion, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 cups canned crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1. Coat chicken with flour; set aside. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add bell pepper, onion, celery and garlic. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Place vegetables in slow cooker.

2. Heat remaining 1 tbsp. oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes per side or until browned. Place chicken in slow cooker.

3. Pour broth into skillet Cook and stir over medium-high heat, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of skillet. Pour broth mixture into slow cooker. Add tomatoes, raisins, curry powder, salt, paprika and black pepper. Cover; cook on LOW 3 hours.

I wasn’t too sure what I was going to make with the leftover crushed tomatoes, but, after a day or two it finally came to me… Pizza. I attempted to make pizza before but it wasn’t all that successful. Mainly because I didn’t properly cook the pizza dough, or I should say I overcooked the pizza dough so that the crust of the pizza was a little too crispy bordering on hard. I had pretty much given up on trying to make it again until I came across Pillsbury’s Thin Crust Pizza dough in the refrigerated section of my local supermarket. I know some may be shaking their heads at this point by my super short-cut in making pizza, but, I figured it was worth the try. I did have my doubts though… Would my pizza just taste like a jazzed up crescent roll?

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To start I rolled out the dough onto a lightly greased 15 x 10 inch cookie sheet.

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I then spread my sauce on to the dough making sure to leave a small border. To make the sauce I mixed together about 2 cups of crushed tomatoes, 1 tbsp. of tomato paste, 2 garlic cloves finely chopped, 1 tsp. of dried basil, 1 tbsp. of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

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And finally I thinly sliced some fresh mozzarella for my one and only topping.

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I then baked it in a 425 degree preheated oven for about 12 minutes and it was perfect. I definitely will be taking this short-cut again when I make pizza in the future.

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Lentil and Sausage Soup

Usually my idea of making soup is opening up a can of my favorite one, heating it up on the stove and then enjoying it, but since I have been cooking more I decided to give making soup from scratch a go. It’s always nice knowing exactly what you are eating as opposed to guessing what the vegetable is after it’s been masked by some thick, albeit yummy, chowder or liquid. I decided to start simple and go with a Lentil and Sausage Soup that I found on Allrecipes.

To start, I browned three links of sweet sausage over medium-high heat. I actually began by cooking the links slightly and then slicing them to finish browning them. It’s much easier to slice half cooked sausage as opposed to raw sausage.

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Next I added in one large onion, a celery stalk and a tablespoon of garlic, all chopped.

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After letting that sauté until the vegetables were tender I added in my lentils, 3 shredded carrots, water, chicken broth and diced tomatoes. I actually used diced tomatoes that were seasoned with basil, garlic and oregano which definitely added in some extra flavor.

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And finally I added in all of my spices: garlic powder, parsley, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, salt & black pepper.

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After bringing the soup to a boil I then reduced the heat and let it simmer until the lentils were tender. While the directions said that it would take about 2.5 to 3 hours my soup was done in about an hour.

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It was absolutely delicious and tasted even better the following day for lunch. I doubt I will be giving up those canned soups anytime soon, but, it’s definitely nice to know that making soup from scratch isn’t all that difficult.

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Lentil and Sausage Soup

Ingredients

1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage

1 large onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 tbsp. chopped garlic

1 16 oz. package dry lentils, rinsed

1 cup shredded carrot

8 cups water

2 14.5 oz. cans chicken broth

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes*

1 tbsp. garlic powder

1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley**

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. dried basil

1 tbsp. salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 lb. ditalini pasta (optional – I chose not to add it in)

*I used 2 14.5 oz. cans of diced tomatoes seasoned with garlic, basil & oregano

**I used 1 tsp. dried parsley

Directions

1. Place sausage in a large pot. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Add onion, celery and chopped garlic, and sauté until tender and translucent. Stir in lentils, carrot, water, chicken broth and tomatoes. Season with garlic powder, parsley, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover, and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until lentils are tender.

2. Stir in pasta, and cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until pasta is tender.

Chicken Cacciatore

I am the first to admit that I much rather bake than cook – I like the exact science of baking as opposed to the freedom of cooking, well freedom to some extent. I always get paranoid while I am cooking that I added too much salt or not enough salt or for that matter too much or too little of any spice. But lately I have been cooking pretty much every day – It’s not like I wasn’t eating before, just someone else was doing the cooking – and I must admit I am not as intimated by it as I was before. I mean I’m really good at reading directions and following a recipe so cooking shouldn’t have been that daunting to me, but for some reason it was. Since I have this newfound semi-confidence and it sort of fits into the theme of my blog I have decided to post about some of my culinary creations – albeit not completely original. Up first, a Chicken Cacciatore that was super simple to make in part because I used McCormick’s Recipe Inspirations to make it. If you haven’t tried these or seen them in the supermarket they are definitely worth the search and try. All of the spices for your recipe are pre-measured and the remaining ingredients you will need are clearly marked and the directions are super simple to follow. It’s sort of like cheating but not really.

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First step was to get all of my vegetables prepped. I chopped one onion and sliced a green bell pepper into strips. The recipe also called for thinly sliced mushrooms which are easily found at any supermarket.

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Next I prepped my chicken breast by first cutting it into cubes (they are not exactly cubes), then coating it with a flour, salt & pepper mixture and finally browning it.

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After removing the chicken from the skillet I put in all of the vegetables cooking them on medium heat until they were tender.

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Once the vegetables were tender I added in all of the spices (minced garlic, marjoram leaves, oregano leaves, crushed rosemary leaves and thyme), a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomato sauce.

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After bringing it to a boil I returned my chicken to the skillet.

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I cooked it until it was heated through and until I was sure the chicken was fully cooked.

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It went perfectly with rice and while I am sure I will make this again I think I will use less thyme than suggested. Its one spice that when dried has a stronger flavor than when fresh.

Chicken Cacciatore

Prep Time: 15 Minutes

Cook Time: 20 Minutes

Servings: 6

Ingredients

1/2 tsp. coarse ground black pepper

1 tsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. marjoram leaves

1/2 tsp. oregano leaves

1/2 tsp. crushed rosemary leaves

1/2 tsp. thyme leaves

1/4 cup flour

1 tsp. salt

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch cubes

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 pkg. (8oz.) mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (1 cup)

1 medium green bell pepper, cut into thin strips (1 cup)

1 can (14 1/2 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained

1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce

Directions

1. Mix flour, salt and pepper in shall dish. Coat chicken evenly with flour mixture.

2. Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook and stir 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove chicken from skillet. Heat remaining 1 tbsp. oil in skillet. Add mushrooms, onions and bell peppers; cook and stir 5 minutes on medium heat or until tender.

3. Stir in remaining ingredients and spices. Bring to boil, stirring frequently. Return chicken to skillet. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 5 minutes or until chicken is heated through. Serve over cooked or rise, if desired.

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