Chicken Alfredo Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Sundried Tomatoes

So, I mentioned on the blog yesterday that I was going to start posting some recipes and ideas just in case they may help people navigate the ways quarantine is limiting our abilities and pantrys. Chicken Alfredo Pizza was something I made frequently when the boys were young. It’s fast, easy, cheap, customizable, and can stretch two smaller chicken breasts to feed a family of 5. This week, I made two versions: one with caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes added, and one with just the chicken, garlic, sauce, and cheese for the picky peeps. Before I list the recipe, here are some ideas to customize it or hack it if the grocery store is still a wasteland:

  • You can use any cooked chicken or turkey, or even brown up ground chicken and crumble it. When all the meat was gone this week at Kroger, there was a whole wall of smoked turkey legs. In a pinch, you can remove the meat from those and use it.
  • Who says it has to be chicken? Our store still had plenty of frozen shrimp in stock. Just sauté some until just under done, because they will finish cooking on the pizza.
  • Pizza dough: Making your own is easier than you think, and as long as you have flour and yeast on hand, you can do it. Alternatively, buy the tubes from the refrigerator case, which is what I did up until the Heathens were no longer tazmanian devils 24/7. My Kroger also sells fresh balls of pizza dough in baggies, which is in the deli section where they store the pre-made soups, salads, and take-home entrees.
  • While this recipe calls for the caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes, you could add bacon bits, sliced peppers, red pepper flakes for spice, toasted bread crumbs for texture, spinach to sneak in some veggies,  or finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

Just remember, until life settles down and our grocery stores can catch up, not every meal is going to be a Pinterest moment, nor is every recipe going to be a favorite of everyone in your household. I will say, though, that I think both experienced and less-confident cooks are going to come out on the other side of this having learned something new about the ways we shop and eat.

**Note–I doubled this recipe to make two the two pizzas seen above**

Chicken Alfredo Pizza

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Ingredients

  • 1 ball or tube of pizza dough (basically enough so you can roll it out to the size of a half-sheet pan or a large pizza pan.
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 2 TBS olive oil (or butter)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup jarred sundried tomato Alfredo sauce (regular jarred Alfredo works too)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or a couple of teaspoons of the jarred stuff)
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped (the kind packed in oil preferably)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella (or pizza blend cheese).
  • 3 TBS grated parmesan

Procedure

  1. Start the onions first: Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the onions and a small sprinkle of salt, stirring well. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until they reach your desired level of caramelization.
  2. While the onions cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a sheet pan or pizza pan with non-stick spray.
  3. Dust your counter and a rolling pin with flour and roll out your pizza dough to fit your pan, then transfer it to the pan. Bake the pizza  dough for 11 minutes, then remove from oven.
  4. Spread the Alfredo sauce evenly over the pizza dough, starting with 1/4 cup at first and adding more as needed. The amount of sauce you will need will depend on the size of your pizza and your preferences. You want a nice even layer of sauce, but try not to drown it.
  5. Distribute the chicken, onions, garlic, and sundried tomatoes over the pizza. Top with mozzarella and parmesan and return it to the oven.
  6. Bake an additional 7-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and starts to brown a little in spots.
  7. Let pizza rest about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

The Dirty Secrets–Pantry Meals, Cheap Meals, Canned Meals, and More for Tips for Your Quarantine Kitchen

Ok, I think we can all agree that food media and culture as a whole has changed in the past 20 years. We now have easy access to blogs, recipes, information, and research. Meanwhile, Michael Pollan and other researched-based advocates opened our eyes to the less-than-desirable aspects of processed foods and ingredients. We get to be seasoned foodies without ever having attended culinary school.

But the reality is that many people do not have the luxury to be selective about ingredients and methods, pandemic or not. They may live in food deserts with no access to fresh products (what would you do if the only store you could reach was Dollar General?), they may have inadequate funds, limited equipment, and lack the basics we take for granted, like reliable internet access for help.

When I first got married, I had recently birthed the Demon-Baby. My husband worked endless hours of overtime to keep us afloat, and I stretched our meager budget as far as it would go. And you know how I did that? Lots of processed products, canned products, protein stretching, and shortcuts. No shame in my game.

Those meals represented my efforts to provide us some semblance of “homecooked” meals, even if it was just a medley of frozen and canned ingredients hastily tossed together. Even before we got married, our college garage apartment produced many memorable bargain meals that we still recall with fondness: Bisquick cinnamon rolls and casseroles, sautéed chicken with Rice-a-Roni pasta, cheese omelets, and that time my husband and one of his best friends learned that splattering hot oil next to boiling liquid was a very, very, very bad idea.

As we all face uncertain weeks ahead, I thought I would dust off some of those meals and ideas. They are not really recipes per se, but ideas based on how I stretched our budget, made the most of processed foods, fresh food, and managed not to kill any of us.

  • Easy and Cheap Chicken Pot Pie: Stir together 2 cups cooked chicken (I often only used one chicken breast), 1 can cream of celery soup, 1 cup milk or half-and-half, 1 tsp. seasoned salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1 can drained peas, and 1 can drained corn. Using a box of refrigerated pie curst, line the bottom of pie plate with 1 roll of the crust. Pour in chicken mixture, top with the other roll of crust, crimping edges. Cut a hole or two in the top to vent. Bake at 400 F 35-40 minutes until top begins to brown. Rest 5-10 minutes before serving. (Or use any combo of canned veg you have).
  • Under $5 Corn Chowder: Stir together 1-1/2 cups milk or half-and-half with one can of cream-style corn into a saucepan over low heat. (The regular size can of corn, not the 7-oz baby size). Add 4 slices chopped ham from the deli (or 1/2 cup chopped diced and browned smoked sausage, or some cooked bacon), 1 can of sliced or diced potatoes, drained, 1 can whole kernel corn, drained, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat about 10-15 minutes, and stir in 1 cup grated cheddar until melted. Serve with bread or rolls if you can.
  • Chicken Squares: Combine 6-oz of room temperature cream cheese with 6-oz of room temperature margarine, 4 TBS milk, 2 chopped green onions and add 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Add 3 cups shredded cooked chicken, mixing well. Separate two tubes of crescent roll dough into eight squares (which is two of triangles still together for each). Press the perforated seam of each square together firmly to create a solid square of dough. Place a spoonful of the chicken mixture into the center of each square. Bring the dough corners to the center, pinching all the edges to seal. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  • Pantry Spicy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: For the soup, combine 3 cups Spicy V-8 juice, 1 can condensed tomato soup, 1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup, and 1 tsp. dried basil in a saucepan. Heat on medium, whisking occasionally until hot and combined. For the sandwiches: Combine one can of condensed nacho cheese soup with 1-1/2 cups fiesta blend shredded cheese. Spread a couple of TBS of cheese mix between two slices of bread, and brush outside of sandwiches with melted margarine or butter. Cook the sandwiches grilled cheese-style until golden. Slice on the diagonal and serve with the soup. *If you can get your hands on a baguette or sausage buns, make mini sandwiches for optimal dipping, which makes picky eaters happier. They like to dip stuff*
  • My Spaghetti Casserole was a staple and continues to be a go-to. I would serve it with frozen or canned green beans that I seasoned with what I had on hand. You can make garlic bread using the ends of a bread loaf or sandwish bread you need to use up. Brush bread with a couple of TBS of butter mixed with a 1/4 tsp. garlic powder and 1/2 tsp. dried parsley. Toast in the oven.
  • Chicken Fajita Chowder relies on mostly pantry-ready ingredients and you can reduce the chicken to stretch it further (the beans add plenty of protein). If you don’t have chips, cornbread is a good side, or even crackers.
  • You don’t get any more affordable than Salmon Croquettes. We would serve this with boxed mac and cheese and canned peas.
  • When I Was in a Bind: I often would throw together a couple of diced, cooked chicken breasts with sautéed diced onion and minced garlic, add a can of cream of celery soup, 2 TBS. lemon juice, 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tsp. seasoned salt and one 1 tsp. paprika. If I had any dried parsley or thyme, I added some. I’d simmer it for a bit and serve over wedges of cornbread.
  • Top Some Potatoes: Potatoes are affordable, and last if you store them properly. If you can bake potatoes, you can top them endlessly, like with shredded chicken or beef, BBQ sauce, and cheese (maybe chopped onion or even slaw for the adults). How about cooked chicken, broccoli, and cheese sauce (maybe with some bacon bits)? Cook frozen breaded chicken strips, dice them, toss with ranch dressing, top potatoes, and drizzle with hot sauce (and sprinkle of blue cheese if you can find it). Try potato tacos, with all the usual ground beef and taco fixings on top. Potatoes are the ultimate affordable canvas to stretch protein.

Other tips:

  • Bisquick and other pre-made mixes are often very cheap, and versatile for pantry cooking, especially if you are short on time. I’ve made many a casserole from on-hand cans and a mix.
  • Combo meals that combine proteins with starches and/or veggies allow you to stretch ingredients further. Think pot pies, Shephards Pie, casseroles, breakfast scrambles, hashes, stews, soups, etc. Eggs are the often least expensive per-serving protein there is.
  • Nearly anything can be transformed into hand pies/meat pies. If you need to clean out the fridge of leftovers, use refrigerated pie dough or frozen bread dough to create a “sweep the kitchen” hand pie night. Use leftover protein, starches, and vegetables, and convince your kids it’s like personal pizza night, but better. Same goes for grilled sandwiches/panini.
  • Ask yourself if what a recipe calls for is TRULY necessary. It may call for three cups of shredded chicken, but you could probably fake it with two. Out of fresh ginger? You could probably scrape by with a fraction of that amount of ginger powder. Will it be just like the recipe? No, obviously, but it could help you try and hit closer to the flavor profile than nothing at all. I frequently substitute fresh herbs with dried (decreasing the amount by half). Some skipping and substitutions can get you by, but remember, don’t be that butthole who goes onto a website and gives terrible recipe reviews after you do so. While being a pantry MacGyver can keep your family well-fed, it’s not fair to compare a hacked recipe to what the writer intended.
  • The good-looking chicken breasts in the refridgerated case are going to be the most expensive. For now, I’d go for the frozen bags (which are often smaller and less-than-neatly cut), or if you have the time, grab the cheap cuts like legs or leg quarters and cook and shred the meat for later.
  • When in doubt, trust dishes like Red Beans and Rice, Jambalaya, Stewed Chicken and Rice, Beef Tips, Meatloaf, etc. They are classics for a reason.

So, these are just some basics from the early days extreme budget eating that I hope inspire anyone struggling under quarantine frustration or scarcity. If you have questions about this post or how to stretch what you have, leave a comment, or if you prefer to ask a question privately, drop me an email (check my profile for the address).

Keep calm and drink on, my friends.

 

 

 

Things I’m Into This Week

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We are deep in the heart of Mardi Gras season, which means lots of crawfish, parades, and King Cakes. When I’m not overindulging, I’m enjoying time with family and friends, making memories and celebrating everything good about my neck of the woods.

In the meantime, here’s a round up of the things I’m into this week, which are clearly food related given my current climate:

Watching: A Chef’s Life. I guess I am late to this PBS gem, but I now binge watch it on the weekends. The combination of a character-driven documentary that still focuses on southern food culture is like crack for peeps like me. If you need some inspiration for your own garden, this show also delivers on that front. Bonus: It’s free to watch online via PBS.

Reading: Speaking of which, I’m reading Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard, the chef in the aforementioned show. This cookbook is an opus, and I love every page. I found it after hearing about the documentary, and it’s one of the most well-executed cookbooks I’ve seen in a long time. However, I will give the disclaimer that it’s more of a 40/60 balance between recipes for home cooks and wannabe chef/foodies, so flip through it before you buy. I’m really particular about the cookbooks I will drop cash on (versus online spelunking for recipes), so I understand if this brick isn’t for everyone.

Listening: I’ve gone down the podcast rabbit hole, and I was probably last to know about The Sporkful. I come from a family that talks about our next meal while we are eating the current cuisine, so I appreciate a podcast that constantly looks at food and culture with the same obsessive eye that we do.

So there ya have it. A snippet of my indulgence for your foodie pleasure. Back to the kitchen, and that leftover piece of King Cake.

**Disclaimer–This post was not sponsored in any way, and none of these people know who I am. I’m not that cool, dude, just tunnel-vision afflicted.**

gmanI’m baaaacck. When I ended my summer, I never had any idea how far my fall would go off the rails. I could give you the gory play by play, but let’s cut to the chase: the Hubs woke up one day in pain, this carried on for weeks, he lost the use of an arm, had a spinal surgery, then had another surgery when that first one failed epically. So, in sum, the Hubs was out of commission for a long, long time, he scared me to death, and I am still waiting on my free pass to throw a toddler-like tantrum as a result. Not really……..but maybe. Good news is that this last scalpel party seems to be successful. He’s recovering by bits and pieces, and I managed not to lose my s—t along the way.

In the meantime, I’ve been knitting, cooking, crafting, and cooking some more. But more than that, I’ve been embracing those small moments with the people I love most. The past few years seem to have been fits and starts of both feelings and voices. Grief is really hard to process when what you hear it in your head is a scream, but everyone around you hears  it as a whisper.

 

Yeah, long story.

 

 

A Deep and Unfathomable Sorrow

Our hearts are heavy, as I’m sure are every other parent’s around our nation. I spent my career working with victims of crime and reliving horror after horror with them, but I still can’t wrap my brain around Friday’s events. I don’t think any of us are equipped, either intellectually or emotionally, to process such an unimaginable tragedy. My husband and I had plenty of words over the weekend…words of shock, words of sympathy and swear words at type of person who punishes strangers and innocents for his own dissatisfaction. But, all the words in the world can’t express the sorrow and sympathy we have in our hearts for the victims and their families. If anything, I imagine our words as tiny drops in a bottomless well that can never be filled…futile but still felt within the deepest depths of our souls. We are powerless in our sadness, but for the prayers that we whisper as we pull our children close.

Giveaway!

So, I was working on Christmas gifts yesterday, and pregnancy brain got the best of me. As you can see from the above photo, I poured my candle wax before it was cool enough, and it bubbled up on me. I also did not add enough color, so it is more pink than red. This cinnamon candle smells great, and will burn fine. It just looks…a little worse for wear.

Do you want a free cinnamon jar candle? Just leave a comment on this post, and I’ll select a response at random on Thursday.

The Curse of the Grocery Checkout Line

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I think someone put a checkout line hex on me.

Whenever I go to the grocery store lately, I inevitable end up in the most annoying, slow, frustrating checkout line ever.

Example A: A couple of weeks ago, I ended up in line behind a guy that was buying $2000 worth of gift cards, all in $20 increments. I didn’t discover this happy fact until my 100 items were already loaded onto the conveyor belt.

Example B: Last week, I ended up behind a group of roommates who were dividing their grocery budget. They proceeded to argue about who would pay for every item, and kept having the cashier scan, then remove items as the total went beyond their ability to pay. Did I mention they were intoxicated and laughed riotously as they made a scene? I waited in line for 35 minutes. Then I went home and had a cocktail.

Example C: Recently, I had a checker that picked up an item, looked at it for a good five seconds, scanned it, then bagged EVERY item in its’ own individual bag. She was clearly under some medicinal influence.

Example D: After waiting in line for 20 minutes, I finally get to the checker, only to have her tell me she thinks she lost her wallet, and I need to sit tight while she goes to look for it. I might have bought it if she didn’t walk 20 feet away to flirt with another employee who was about to leave for the day, only to return without ever looking for said wallet.

I know what you’re thinking…why don’t I just get into another line when these kinds of shenanigans happen? Well, my grocery store seems to think that four checkers manning “20 items or less” lines and one checker manning a regular line (out of 35 possible checkout lines) is PLENTY for the busiest time of day.

Sometimes, I feel a lot like Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

Avian Invaders and Greek Food—Yep, It’s as Completely Unrelated as You Think

When I came home from work today, this little guy had taken up residence in the base of my deck. I gave him wide berth, but he somehow managed to give me the “Whatchoo talking bout, Willis” look from every angle.

I am pretty sure that look is the “bleep off” version of bird. Hopefully, he’ll move along soon, because my boys will start thinking he’s a pet if he hangs around much longer.

In completely unrelated news, the garden continues to produce food faster than we can eat, can and freeze. I got a little desperate this weekend, and did a frantic search for eggplant recipes, with the hope of reducing the pile of vegetables that is overtaking my kitchen counter. I landed on Moussaka (which I can’t even pronounce, by the way), and decided that a little experimentation was in order.

I certainly did not have high hopes for this recipe. First, it contained a bunch of ingredients that regularly send the heathens into riot-mode. Second, I am a Louisiana girl, and my pathetically underdeveloped palate is still confounded by the spice combinations that are in a lot of Greek food. Indian food too, for that matter. Lastly, just the simple fact that eggplant is the main ingredient was enough to have my husband doing the dramatic choking/dying pantomime. *Sigh*

Well, lo and behold, we all liked this dish, and I got to rack up the cool mom points for a garden-fresh meal. It was deliciously rich and cheesy, and the eggplant was well-disguised from the heathens’ vegetable-laser-vision. I don’t know how “authentic” this recipe is, but our simpleton taste buds sure enjoyed it, and I was able to reduce my vegetable invasion for at least a day.

I served the Moussaka with a simple Greek salad (also using veggies from the garden):

And got to feel like the Saturday dinner superstar. Want to have a Moussaka adventure of your own? Here’s the recipe I used:

Moussaka

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Ingredients

  • 3 eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon fines herbs
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • salt to taste
  • ground white pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions

  1. Lay the slices of eggplant on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the moisture. Then in a skillet over high heat, heat the olive oil. Quickly fry the eggplant until browned. Set aside on paper towels to drain.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the ground beef, salt and pepper to taste, onions, and garlic. After the beef is browned, sprinkle in the cinnamon, nutmeg, fines herbs and parsley. Pour in the tomato sauce and wine, and mix well. Simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, and then stir in beaten egg.
  3. To make the béchamel sauce, begin by scalding the milk in a saucepan. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Lower heat; gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly until it thickens. Season with salt, and white pepper.
  4. Arrange a layer of eggplant in a greased 9×13 inch baking dish. Cover eggplant with all of the meat mixture, and then sprinkle 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese over the meat. Cover with remaining eggplant, and sprinkle another 1/2 cup of cheese on top. Pour the béchamel sauce over the top, and sprinkle with the nutmeg. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
  5. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees F.