Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cheesy chicken spaghetti

Like so many young women, my daughter has become fascinated with Pinterest. It’s an online source of many things from fashion and home decor to technology and food. Users of Pinterest post their ideas and share them with others.

Anna has a good eye and has led me to several wonderful ideas and many recipes.

For a few months now, she’s wanted to make an easy slow cooker recipe for cheesy chicken spaghetti that she saw on Pinterest. We finally got around to it, and she loved it. So did everyone else who tried it.

The recipe is simple enough: just add the ingredients and let the slow cooker do the work. Cooking time is just two to three hours.

We played around with the ingredients, of course.

For one, I have this rule about soups. I try to never use more than one can of soup (usually cream of chicken or cream of mushroom) in any one recipe, mostly because I worry about sodium, even though I purchase the low-sodium versions. So I changed the part of the recipe that called for both cream of chicken and cream of mushroom and used just the mushroom soup. But just before the end of cooking time, I mixed in 8 ounces of low-fat sour cream as a substitute.

I also cut the Velvetta in half and instead of using canned chicken, I used diced meat from chicken breasts I cooked.

To make this recipe even more simple, I cooked the chicken breasts in the slow cooker the day before I planned to serve the new dish. I also cooked the spaghetti ahead of time. That way I could assemble the recipe during my lunch hour, and Anna could turn it off when she got home from school.

And then, supper was ready!

This is a great, easy recipe for someone who’s just learning to cook or for those of us who have been cooking for a long time but enjoy the easy recipes, too.

Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti
  • 8 oz. spaghetti, cooked
  • 1/2 pound Velveeta 2 percent, cut into chunks to melt easily
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 1 can reduced-fat, reduced-sodium cream of mushroom soup
  • 10 oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilies (I used Rotel mild)
  • 4 oz. can mushrooms, drained
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 medium green or red bell pepper, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces low-fat sour cream
Use a slow cooker liner in your crock or use non-stick cooking spray.

Combine all ingredients except the spaghetti and sour cream. Cook on low for 2 to 3 hours.

At the end of cooking time, mix in spaghetti and sour cream and cook briefly until heated through.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Easy and so yummy

I’ve got a really good, really easy muffin for you to try. Actually, it might be more of a cupcake, but it doesn’t have frosting, so let’s just call it a muffin.

I got the idea for this recipe a few weeks back when looking at easy treats made with a cake mix.

This one was on the Duncan Hines website, or at least a version. The Duncan Hines recipe is golden oatmeal muffins. In addition to a cake mix, the recipe calls for a cup of uncooked oats. The site recommends serving the muffins with warm butter or preserves.

I’m sure they would be delicious that way, but let me tell you just how good they are with chocolate chips and pecans mixed in!

The addition of oats to a cake mix adds more of a coarse consistency than you get with a cupcake made by the directions on the back of the box. The crunch of the nuts and the gooey consistency of the chocolate chips, when served hot, only make it better.

My family devoured these. We loved them, especially, for a morning snack.

They were so good as soon as they came out of the oven, so when we ate more the next day, we heated them for maybe 10 seconds in the microwave or just long enough for the chocolate chips to start melting.

I’ve made this recipe twice. The first time I used a butter golden cake mix. The second time, I used a yellow cake. I couldn’t tell a lot of difference between the two, but the butter golden cake mix might have been more moist. My husband didn’t notice a difference; he liked them both ways. I did notice that the recipe made with the butter golden cake mix did brown better than the recipe I made with the yellow cake mix.

Give this delicious and easy recipe a try. And change the mix-ins if you’d like. I know coconut would be a wonderful addition.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins
  • 1 package butter golden cake mix or yellow cake mix
  • 1 cup uncooked quick-cooking oats
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk (I use skim)
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 24 muffin cups or line with paper baking cups; spray baking cups with baking spray for best results.

In large bowl, stir cake mix, oats and salt. Add milk, eggs and melted butter and stir until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and pecans. Fill muffin cups two-thirds full.

Bake 13-15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from pan.

Heat leftovers in microwave for 10 seconds or just until warm.

Makes about 15-18 muffins.

The original recipe does not include chocolate chips and pecans. Duncan Hines suggests serving their warm oatmeal muffins with butter and preserves.

Adapted from Duncan Hines

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Easy, spicy soup

On Thursday each week, my co-worker Shana Hoover sends around an email asking for items for the weekly email newsletter we send to our readers. She wants a list of stories for the next week, and I usually give her the topic of my food column and an arts story.

Most weeks, I can send her a food column topic and a photograph that she can put in the newsletter. But sometimes, I have to really ponder what to tell her. And this particular Thursday last month, I shot back an email: “NO CLUE what my food column will be. Isn’t that sad?”

That’s bad news for me. I get all panicky and stressed if I don’t have food columns lined up and the recipes and photos made about a week in advance. I hate going into a weekend with no food column planned for Wednesday.

Shana offered one of her favorite recipes right then — a chicken tortilla soup she makes in a slow cooker. We didn’t make it for that next week, but I’m sharing it now.

Shana’s recipe is a very simple main dish recipe. If you can operate a can opener and turn on your slow cooker, then you can make this recipe! It’s the kind of dish working families love: one that takes little effort in the morning and is ready when you get home from work.

When my daughter and I walked into Shana’s new home last week to take a photo of the soup, we were greeted with the wonderful aroma of spicy, simmering soup. What a way to come home from a day at the office, huh?

One of the things I like most about this recipe is that you put the uncooked chicken breasts directly into the soup with the other ingredients. No precooking! Shana says she has used both frozen and fresh chicken breasts and had good results with each. At the end of cooking time, she uses a fork to break up the chicken while it’s still in the crock. So easy!

You can certainly tailor this recipe to your taste, using mild, medium or hot salsa and mild or hot Mexican tomatoes.

My daughter, who loves spicy food, really enjoyed this soup and said how good it would be for her lunch at school. We plan to make a recipe and divide it into individual servings we can freeze.

The soup is served with cheese and tortilla chips. Shana said she likes to crumble her tortilla chips directly into the soup.

If you have any left, heat it for leftovers at work the next day, but make sure to take the recipe because your co-workers will want it!

As for me and my column, I’m proud to say I have two recipes and photos complete. Check back next week for something sweet!

Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • 3 chicken breast halves (can be fresh or frozen)
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 10-ounce cans Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies, original
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies
  • 1 14.5 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 14.5 ounce can chicken broth (reduced-fat, reduced-sodium will work fine)
  • Tortilla chips
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Combine all ingredients except chips and cheese in large slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 8 hours. Once cooked, use a fork to break up chicken into bite-size pieces.

Serve with cheese and tortilla chips.

Shana Hoover

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Favorite chicken pie

Comfort food. We all need it from time to time, and I have a list of favorites from baked macaroni and cheese to chicken pastry.

Another favorite is a chicken pie that’s really not a pie. It’s made in a casserole dish and has a delicious, buttery topping that puffs up and browns as it bakes, making a delicious crust. Yum. Makes me hungry just thinking about it!

The recipe is one that I’ve been making since 1992, when it ran in this newspaper. If I’ve shared it before, forgive me for repeating, but it’s worth repeating.

To start this recipe, cook a whole but cut-up chicken, making plenty of seasoned broth however you make your broth. I usually simmer the chicken in salted water that covers the chicken for maybe 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. I throw in a few pieces of celery and some onion if I have them. After the broth has cooked and cooled some, I remove the chicken and strain the broth. Then I skim the fat from the top after the broth has cooled.

I have made the recipe before with chicken breasts and canned broth, but I think it’s better with both white and dark meat and homemade broth.

The chicken I cooked this weekend was perfect for 3 cups of chicken called for in this recipe. I was also able to use my own broth for this recipe and freeze a nice amount for a later meal.

This chicken casserole calls for peas and carrots. You could certainly use another mix of veggies if you’d prefer, but we like the peas and carrots.

The topping is simply Bisquick, butter and milk.

Often, I have made this casserole the day before I’m going to eat it and left it in the refrigerator overnight to cook the next day. The results are very good.

I always make rice to go with this dish and sometimes a Jello salad as well. Some in my family mix the rice with the casserole.

This recipe makes a lot. I fed five adults Sunday and had plenty of leftovers for lunch on Monday. We put the leftover casserole and rice in the same container, then microwaved individual servings in a bowl. I told my husband the leftovers were almost better than what we had the day before!

Chicken Pie
  • 1 3-lb. chicken, cooked in salted water and deboned (about 3 cups)
  • 2 cups chicken broth from cooked chicken (can use canned)
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (I use Healthy Request, low-sodium, low-fat)
  • 1 1/2 cups Bisquick (I use the Heart Smart version)
  • 1/2 stick butter, softened
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Frozen peas and carrots (optional; I use about 1 cup)
Place cut-up chicken in 9X13-inch casserole dish.

Mix soup and broth with a whisk to combine. Add in about 1 cup cooked and drained peas and carrots. Spoon mixture over chicken. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste over mixture.

Beat Bisquick, butter and milk thoroughly. Spoon over chicken mixture to make a crust. Don’t worry about completely spreading it. It should spread as it bakes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes until casserole is bubbly and crust is brown.