Spinach and Chicken Stuffed Shells

I am not a fan of stuffed, layered or baked pastas, mostly because I hate ricotta cheese.  We had a late Christmas dinner back in early February at my brother’s house (dad was in town), and my sister-in-law made stuffed shells.  I gobbled them up at a time when food itself didn’t sound good at all, and have been craving them ever since.  When I saw this recipe for stuffed shells with spinach and chicken, I knew I had to try them!  They were a huge hit with all of us, and we only had a few leftover.  The only thing I will change next time is to use a different sauce (probably my homemade marinara if I ever get around to making another batch!) as we weren’t huge fans of the jarred sauce I bought.  I will definitely make these again soon, and have already added this to my freezer meal plan for after baby gets here!

Spinach and Chicken Stuffed Shells

15 large shells, boiled and drained
1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded chicken breast
1/2 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesan or romano cheese, grated
1/2 cup part skim mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Marinara sauce – homemade or store-bought

Cook shells according to package directions. Be careful not to overcook them or they will tear easily when trying to fill them. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large bowl, combine chicken, ricotta, spinach, parmesan cheese, and the egg. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into shells.

*Tip: For easier filling, fill a gallon ziplock bag with the filling and snip a quarter size hole off the corner of the bag. Then you can just pipe the filling into the shells.

Spread half of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Arrange shells over sauce; top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese. Cover tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Bake, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Bake for 5 to 10 more minutes. Serve alongside additional marinara sauce.

Source: From Cooking with Chrissy

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MSC: Tiramisu Cupcakes

Back in December or so, I joined a group called MS Cupcakes Club, which is a group of bloggers who are baking their way through Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes cookbook.  I’ve had this book for awhile, and have never had a chance to bake anything yet, so I was excited to have a chance to do so.  Unfortunately, my morning sickness kicked in at the same time I joined, so I didn’t really bake at all until this month, which is the recipe I chose for Tiramisu Cupcakes.  I would have had these posted yesterday, but we had some technical difficulties in our kitchen over the weekend (stuipd incessant rain…).  I am a HUGE tiramisu fan and tend to order it for dessert whenever I get the chance.  Surprisingly, I’ve never made tiramisu from scratch, so I thought these cupcakes would be a good place to start.

These cupcakes were delicious, but man does my kitchen look like a warzone after making these this evening!  I found them to be quite complicated and time consuming to make, and I’m not 100% sure they were worth the effort.  I mean, they were really good, but don’t quite compare to the real thing for me.  These start off with scraped vanilla beans and the pods steeped in warm milk to impart the vanilla flavor.  Then eggs, egg yolks, and sugar are combined and whisked over simmering water for awhile, thickened up until pale yellow with the stand mixer, then combined with the dry ingredients and steeped milk (after straining) to give you a yummy looking batter.  Bake for 20 minutes, cool, then soak with a coffee/marsala wine/sugar syrup and let soak for 30 minutes.  Top with a nice and light mascarpone/heavy cream/powdered sugar topping, and voila, tiramisu cupcakes!

As I said, we really enjoyed these, but for the effort, I will likely try making good old fashioned tiramisu next time I’m having a craving for it.  You can see how the other bloggers joined these here.  For our June cupcakes, we’ll be trying the Father’s Day Tee-Time Cupcakes, which I’m planning to make for the toddler’s third (!!!!!) birthday party.

Tiramisu Cupcakes

1 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
3 large whole eggs, plus 3 egg yolks, room temperature
Coffee-Marsala Syrup (recipe follows)
Mascarpone Frosting (recipe follows)
Unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

Preheat oven to 325.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Heat milk and vanilla-bean pod and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat just until bubbles appear around the edge.  Remove from heat.  Whisk in butter until melted, and let stand 15 minutes.  Strain milk mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, and discard vanilla-bean pod.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together whole eggs, yolks, and sugar.  Set mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water, and whisk by hand until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm, about 6 minutes.  Remove bowl from heat.  With an electric mixer on high speed, whisk until mixture is fluffy, pale yellow, and thick enough to hold a ribbon on the surface for several seconds when whisk is lifted.

Gently, but thoroughly, fold flour mixture into the egg mixture in three batches; stir 1/2 cup batter into the strained milk mixture to thicken, then fold milk mixture into the remaining batter just until combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until centers are completely set and edges are light golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

To finish, brush tops of cupcakes evenly with coffee-marsala syrup; repeat until all syrup has been used.  Allow cupcakes to absorb liquid 30 minutes.  Dollop frosting onto cupcakes; refrigerate up to overnight in airtight containers.  Dust generously with cocoa powder just before serving.

Coffee-Marsala Syrup

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp freshly brewed strong coffee (or espresso)
1 ounce marsala
1/4 cup sugar

Stir together coffee, marsala, and sugar until sugar is dissolved.  Let cool.

Mascarpone Frosting

1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk heavy cream until stiff peaks form (be careful not to overbeat, or cream will be grainy).  In another bowl, whisk together mascarpone and confectioners’ sugar until smooth.  Gently fold whipped cream into mascarpone until completely incorporated.  Use immediately.

Source:From Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes, page 38, Frosting recipe on page 310

Mexican Rice

This rice was the perfect accompainiment for the Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos we had for Cinco de Mayo.  It comes together in about 25 minutes or so, and only requires a little bit of up front work.  This will definitely be a go-to side dish for our Mexican dinners!

Mexican Rice
Servings: Points+: 5

1 teaspoon canola oil
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until puffed and golden. While rice is cooking, sprinkle with salt and cumin.

Stir in onions and cook until tender. Stir in tomato sauce and chicken broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Source: From Allrecipes

Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos

I’m a big fan of Mexican food, and one of the appetizers I like to get while out at a Mexican restaurant are chicken taquitos.  I mean, how can you go wrong with chicken, cheese and other yummy seasonings wrapped in a corn tortilla and deep fried?  I bookmarked this recipe awhile ago, and when scanning saved recipes for something new for Cinco de Mayo, I decided it was time to try these.  I’m always a fan of trying to “healthify” my favorite foods, so I was really hoping these would taste as good as the restaurant version.  I am VERY happy to say that they taste even better than the ones I’ve had at restaurants!  All three of us were big fans of these, especially the toddler…just look at his cute little face 🙂

The only changes I made to the recipe were to substitute black bean salsa for the green salsa since we’re not fan of the green salsa, and I used a Mexican blend cheese rather than pepperjack to make them more toddler friendly.   Also, be careful not to overfill the tortillas…most of mine split because I had too much filling in them, and I only got 11 taquitos!  These will make a somewhat frequent appearance on our weekly meal plan, and I will definiltey be making a batch or two to freeze so that we have them for impromptu football parties this fall, and for dinners after our new little one arrives in September.

Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos
Servings: 12 taquitos  Points+:  3 per taquito

1/3 cup (3 oz) cream cheese
1/4 cup black bean salsa
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cups grated Mexican blend cheese

small corn tortillas
kosher salt
cooking spray

Heat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

Heat cream cheese in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds so it’s soft and easy to stir. Add salsa, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, onion powder and granulated garlic. Stir to combine and then add cilantro. Add chicken and cheese and combine well.

(You can prepare up to this step ahead of time. Just keep the mixture in the fridge.)

Work with a few tortillas at a time and heat in the microwave until they are soft enough to roll without cracking. It helps to place them between damp paper towels. Usually 20-30 seconds will do it. If you find yours are cracking when you roll them or come unrolled right away, just try heating them longer and try the paper towel thing.

Place 2-3 T of chicken mixture on the lower third of a tortilla, keeping it about 1/2 inch from the edges.

Then roll it up as tight as you can.

Place seam side down on the baking sheet. Lay all of the taquitos on the baking sheet and make sure they are not touching each other. Spray the tops lightly with cooking spray or an oil mister and sprinkle some kosher salt on top.

Place pan in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until crisp and the ends start to get golden brown.

Source: Adapted from Our Best Bites

Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese

I love, love, love homemade macaroni and cheese and am continually on the lookout for the perfect recipe.  When I saw this one from Alton Brown, I had a feeling my quest for the perfect recipe would be over.  This mac and cheese, to me, was perfect…rich and creamy and delicious.  Unfortunatly, the husband and toddler still have a preference for the blue box!!  The toddler said it was “too tangy mommy” and the husband said he wasn’t a fan of the sharp cheddar flavor (even though he LOVES sharp cheddar cheese…go figure).  So, the next time I make this, I may use half mild cheddar and half sharp to see if that makes a difference.

Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
6 ounces evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
10 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Over low heat continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy.

Source: From Alton Brown on Food Network’s Website

Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Breasts

If you’re like our family, eat a lot of chicken and are always on the lookout for a new and exciting way to prepare boneless, skinless chicken breasts, then you MUST try this recipe!  Chicken can get boring quickly, but, for us anwyay, it is often the most economical meat we buy and is something we eat multiple days a week.  I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for years, and for some reason, never got around to making it until a few weeks ago.  It is so easy to throw together and I had it on the table in under 20 minutes!  The only changes I made were to swap chicken breasts for the thighs as that is what I always have on hand, and I cut back on the red pepper to appease the toddler’s palate.  Enjoy!

Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Breasts

2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Cooking spray
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Preheat broiler.

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken to bowl; toss to coat. Place chicken on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Broil chicken 4 minutes on each side.

Combine honey and vinegar in a small bowl, stirring well. Remove chicken from oven; brush 1/4 cup honey mixture on chicken. Broil 1 minute. Remove chicken from oven and turn over. Brush chicken with remaining honey mixture. Broil 1 additional minute or until chicken is done.

Source: Adapted from Cooking Light March 2007