Creamy Crockpot Chicken Stew…and Pot Pie…and Possibilities

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In another pantry experiment, I made a batch of “Cream of Something” soup mix. It’s a lower fat, healthier alternative to canned cream soups, especially as you make it and know exactly what is in it. It is comprised of chicken bullion granules, nonfat dried milk, cornstarch, and dried spices (basil, onion, thyme, pepper). It sounds a little weird but it’s pretty tasty.

Today I decided to make a chicken and rice crockpot stew – just set it and forget it. 

  
What ended up happening is the soup mix turned out to be a base for another base. My stew turned out thick and creamy and while delicious on its own, was screaming for dumplings or crust or cheese and vegetables. So much can be done with such minimal effort.

CREAMY CHICKEN AND RICE CROCKPOT STEW
1 pound chicken thighs
1 cup brown rice
1 chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
2 quarts water
1.5 cups cream of something soup mix
Juice of 1 lemon
1 small can corn

  1. Place thighs, onions, carrots, water, and rice in crockpot, set on high.
  2. After three hours mixture will be thick. Add remaining ingredients and set to warm for another half hour. Enjoy!

  
Now you can play! I created an individual pot pie by adding cheese into the stew, topping with pie crust, and baking to golden brown. You can make empanadas, dumplings, casseroles…possibilities are endless and there’s barely work involved!

    Autumn White Lasagna

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    I had a butternut squash sitting in my apartment for about two weeks. The time had come to do something. I decided to go for lasagna, but get a bit more creative than the Giada recipe I have used in the past.

    I decided to do something with the squash and walnuts, so I decided instead of doing plain boring ricotta, to use Ligurian walnut sauce, which is sort of like a walnut pesto popular in the Ligurian region of Italy. I fell in love with it when I visited on of my girlfriends about three years ago.

      
    To start, the first thing I did was clean and prep the squash. As I roasted it in the oven, I prepped the walnut sauce. I used no boil noodles and as I was baking I prepped the bechamel. By doing this in stages prep, I didn’t feel a slave to the kitchen, and I made a few other things for lunch for the week ahead.

    My recipe is not exacting, you can definitely play with quantities.

    AUTUMN WHITE LASAGNA
    No-boil lasgna noodles, about 15 sheets
    1 cup ricotta cheese
    1 egg
    3 linked Italian chicken sausage, cut in 1/4 in slices
    1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

    For the Butternut Squash:
    1 regular sized butternut squash
    olive oil
    salt and pepper

    For the Walnut Sauce:
    1 cup walnuts
    1/3 cup parmesan cheese
    1/4 cup olive oil
    2 cloves garlic
    1 cup breadcrumbs
    1 cup Greek yogurt
    1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
    salt and pepper

    For the Bechamel:
    1/2 stick butter
    1/4 cup flour
    2 cups milk
    1 teaspoon nutmeg
    1 teaspoon onion powder
    dash of Worchestershire sauce
    salt and pepper

    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
    2. Arrange butternut squash pieces on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toss squash to coat all pieces. Roast for about 30 minutes or until tender enough to mash with fork. Remove from oven, set aside.
    3. Lower temperature to 350 degrees.
    4. Meanwhile, place all walnut sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until ingredients are well incorporated, maintaining a little texture. Mixture will be thick. Divide in half.
    5. Take half the walnut sauce and mix with ricotta and egg.
    6. Take the butternut squash and place in a bowl, mash with a masher until blended but still a little chunky.
    7. To assemble, spread a thin layer of the ricotta mixture on the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan. Top with three noodles. Spread half the squash, top with noodles, repeat. Over the second squash layer assemble a layer of chicken sausage, top with noodles.
    8. For top layer, spread remaining walnut mixture and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake covered 25 minutes.
    9. While baking, prep the bechamel. In a deep skillet, melt butter and add flour to create a roux. Cook about 3 minutes until well mixed and blonde in color. Add nutmeg and onion powder. With one hand slowly add milk while whisking with the other. Cook about five more minutes until sauce thickens. Add other seasonings to taste preference.
    10. After the 25 minutes, uncover lasagna and add bechamel on top. Bake another 25 minutes until sauce lightly browns.
    11. To serve, cut in 9 pieces and top each serving with a sprinkle of walnuts.
    12. Tip – if reheating leftovers, prepare some fresh bechamel to top on pieces.

       
        
        
     

      Croque Monsieur 

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      Last night I attempted one of my French bistro sandwiches, the simply elegant Croque Monsieur. It’s a fancy sounding name for an elevated ham and cheese sandwich, but once you bite into one, you have to call it by name.

        
      Assembled open faced, finished in the oven, including the broiler should you dare.

      I cannot recommend exact quantities on this, as I feel you just assemble and make it look pretty. The quick bechamel I made was probably enough for two sandwiches, so I will go into a bit more detail with the sauce.

      For the sandwich, I used two medium-thick slices of semolina bread, but any heart sliced bread or baguette will do – Italian, French, you could even go rye, though I prefer a milder tasting bread. I spread a thin layer of super grainy mustard and topped with ham. I then preheated my oven to 400 degrees and got started on the bechamel.

        
      This was not a true bechamel. Instead a made a roux by melting two tablespoons butter and whisked in two tablespoons of flour. When the roux was cooked to a light blond color I added more grain mustard, a pinch of garlic powder (I would have preferred onion powder but I was out), a few dashes of nutmeg, salt and pepper. While whisking over low heat, I added 2/3 cup milk, added slightly more, thinning the sauce a bit more. You want the consistency to fall somewhere between mayo and gravy – thinner than mayo, but not so thin that it drips everywhere. I then added about two heaping tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and a teaspoon of Colman’s mustard powder.

        
      I removed the sauce from heat and continued to assemble the sandwich. I spread about half the sauce I made over the ham on each slice.

        
      I topped the sauce with Swiss cheese (you may also use Gruyere), and placed my sandwich in the oven.

        
      I baked it for about 5 minutes, then switched on the broiler to melt the cheese even more for another two minutes. The result? Heaven.

        

      Crock Pot Patates Yiahni

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      I haven’t written a post in about a month. I did some traveling, celebrated my birthday, and have been a little swamped at work. One thing I have been doing a lot of those is batch cooking on Sundays. In the spirit of my pantry project, I continue to seek out ways to save money. I try not to buy lunch at work anymore, or I will treat myself maybe once a week. Instead, I bring lunch, easily saving me $40 a week. Plus mall food kinda blows if you have it daily.

      I’ve done some fun dishes, like butternut squash risotto that I also rework into arancini, and potato soup remains a favorite. In the meantime, with the weather getting colder I’m missing some of the Greek dishes I’ve enjoyed from my mom over the years, like trahana and Patates Yiahni. The latter is a braised potato stew that can be vegan or with meat. Having a few errands to run today, I decided to experiment with making it in a crockpot. 

      What is great about much Greek cooking is the simplicity of the ingredients. For the stew I combined some olive oil, two chopped red onions (you can use any onion, red I just had on hand), a couple of sliced garlic cloves, chicken thighs straight from the freezer, four potatoes, a box of Pomi strained tomatoes, two cups of chicken broth, salt, pepper, oregano, and some bay leaves. Everything went straight in the crock pot, set on high for about four hours. That’s it, and I have lunch for most of the week.

         
         
      To serve, add a generous sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese and you can also eat with some crusty bread, but I like it as is.

      Cauliflower and Cornmeal Crust Pizza

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      My Pinterest feed is always flooded with cauliflower crust recipes, as they are supposed to be a chewy, delicious gluten-free alternative to pizza crust. Since my recent success with the polenta fries I have wanted to up the ante and do a cauliflower-cornmeal crust.

      I researched some recipes and tweaked it to suit my tastes. I could not imagine cauliflower on its own coming out crispy, and I love the crunch cornmeal adds.

      Here’s what I came up with:

      CAULIFLOWER-CORNMEAL PIZZA CRUST
      1 bag frozen cauliflower
      2/3 cup cornmeal
      1 egg
      1 tablespoon olive oil
      1/4 cup parmesan cheese
      1/4 cup shredded mexican blend cheese
      1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
      1 tablespoon garlic powder
      1 teaspoon dried basil
      salt and pepper

      1. Steam the cauliflower until tender. Drain, allow to cool, and run through a food processor. Do not over process, leave some texture in the vegetable. Place cauliflower in a kitchen towel or cheesecloth and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
      2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine all ingredients – mix with a spoon then knead dough into a ball. If it is too dry and crumbly, add a touch more oil.
      3. Roll out into a disc shape and flatten as thin as you wold like. Mine was about 1/4 inch thick.
      4. Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown and edges are slightly more brown.
      5. Remove from oven and add your pizza toppings. Bake for another 5-7 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

         
        

         

      Hand Ground Chicken Meatballs

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      So I had taken some chicken breasts out of my freezer to thaw, but left one behind, figuring I would get to it later in the week. Later in the week came and I wasn’t in the mood to grill it or make a cutlet or so whatever it is people do with a single chicken breast. I was really in the mood for meatballs to go with my polenta fries.

      I realized I do not own a grinder, and a food processor would probably destroy the meat’s texture. So I decided to see what I could do with a knife. As I started to chop, I remembered I have a meat mallet for pounding cutlets. I decided to use that on the breast, combined with chopping, and I was really pleased with the results. It was then time to put the meatballs together.

      CHICKEN MEATBALLS
      1 chicken breast (4 – 5 ounce piece)
      1 egg
      1/3 cup bread crumbs
      1/4 cup parmesan cheese
      1/2 onion, roughly chopped
      2 tablespoons fresh parsley
      1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
      Dash of Worcestershire sauce
      Dash of Hot Sauce (I used Sriracha)
      Salt and Pepper

      1. “Grind” the breast by the method of your choice
      2. Mix all ingredients together, first stirred with a spoon, then knead by hand
      3. Portion out the meatballs to the size of your choice, I used an ice cream scoop to make balls slightly larger than a golf ball
      4. Chill the meatballs for about half an hour to set
      5. When ready, pour oil in the vessel of your choice (I like cast iron), heat to about 350 degrees
      6. Fry meatballs 2-3 minutes on each side. Depending on the size, you may want to finish in the oven to ensure they are thoroughly cooked
      7. Serve with marinara for dipping


        

      Polenta Fries

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      There’s a chain restaurant in Clifton called Spuntinos. It’s a yummy tapas restaurant and every time I go I make it a point to order their polenta fries. They have a crisp texture on the outside, some nice chew on the inside, and usually seasoned well with herbs and grated cheese.

      I decided to try and replicate them at home. I played around Pinterest and most potenta fries “cheated” with tubed polenta. I prefer to make something from scratch.

      In pantry project fashion, I assumed I had polenta on hand, but in fact I didn’t. I did, however, have cornmeal. It’s honestly the same thing! My only advice is if you want a smoother texture, pulse the cornmeal in a food processor a few times.

      The production was pretty easy, but for best results this should be a two day event so the polenta can set and stiffen.

      POLENTA FRIES
      1 cup cornmeal
      2 cups broth (I used chicken ut veggie works)
      1/8 cup chopped parlsey
      2 tablespoons dried basil
      2 tablespoons dried chives
      1/4 cup parmesan cheese
      2 tablespoons butter
      salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

      1. Bring broth to a boil, add cornmeal and stir constantly until full incorporated. Reduce heat, cover, and allow to cook about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
      2. Remove from heat and add seasonings, cheese, and butter – mix until well incorporated.
      3. Lightly grease a cookie sheet (one with sides) or jelly roll pan, spread polenta mixture evenly in pan. Smooth top.
      4. Allow to cool about 30 minutes, transfer to refrigerator and allow to stiffen overnight.
      5. When ready to fry, heat a generous amount of vegetable oil, about 1-2 inches deep in a heavy bottom pot or skillet (I use cast iron) to 350-375 degrees.
      6. Cut the polenta to desired sized strips. If the mixture falls apart or feels too loose you can coat with a bit more cornmeal.
      7. Fry several pieces at a time (do not overcrowd), turning once, until golden brown. Place on paper towels to drain and sprinkle with some hard cheese, like Parmesan, while still warm.
      8. Serve immediately with a favorite sauce, I chose marinara but you can do a Belgian style mayo as well.