Chicken & Spinach Lagagna Roll-Ups

It’s the last week of school, and needless to say, it’s crazy busy around here. However, I took some time today to cook one of the Heathen’s favorite dishes: Chicken & Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups. This super-easy meal gets a fast flavor cheat by using ranch dressing mix to season the chicken and spinach filling. I prepped it in the morning so all I had to do was pop it in the oven, and serve it up with a side salad and some garlic bread. And wine. Lots of wine. Did I mention it’s kinda crazy around here right now?

Chicken & Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups

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Ingredients

  • 2 (8-ounce) packages Neufchatel cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 packages powdered ranch dressing mix
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (or about 3 cups of cooked chicken)
  • 1 (12-ounce) bag of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 box lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions (about 15 noodles)
  • 2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
  • 1 cup half and half OR 1-1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, combine cream cheese and ranch mix until incorporated. Remove about 1/3 cup of this mixture and set aside.
  2. Add chicken and spinach to the bowl, stirring until the mixture is well blended.
  3. Carefully spread about three to four tablespoons of the chicken mixture onto each noodle. From the narrow end, roll up each noodle and place seam side down into a casserole dish
  4. Combine reserved 1/3 cup cream cheese with tomato sauce, whisking until blended. Add half and half OR cream, stirring to combine.
  5. Pour sauce over roll-ups and cover the casserole with foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle cheese over roll-ups and re-cover loosely with foil. Bake an additional 10 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

Cook’s Notes:

  • I cook for 6 people every day, three of which are hungry guys, so I tend to make a lot of food. You can easily half this.
  • Don’t forget to add salt to your pasta water. Salting the pasta water separates the good pasta cooks from the not-so-good pasta cooks.
  • To make the noodles easy to work with, lay out some foil or parchment paper on the counter and spray with non-stick spray. After you drain the noodles, lay them out in a single layer on the foil to prevent sticking.
  • Cook a few extra lasagna noodles. Inevitably, some will tear during the cooking process, so it’s good to have backups.
  • Grab a rotisserie chicken to cut the prep time if you want. I cooked a big batch of chicken in my Instant Pot and used the rest to make chicken salad.
  • Variation ideas: Add roasted red peppers or sundried tomatoes to the chicken mixture. Top with jarred alfredo sauce instead of the tomato sauce. Substitute chopped cooked shrimp or turkey for the chicken. Garnish with a little chopped basil or parsley.

Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday–“Carrot Fritters”

**If this is your first visit, here’s the intro to my CCTT project.**

So, this week’s CCTT recipe comes from Talk About Good! which was published by the Junior League of Lafayette in 1967. Since it’s original publication, it has undergone 31 additional printings, with nearly 800,000 copies sold. This was another book I remember from Mom’s collection, and I managed to snag it at a local bookstore, giving me hope that I can recover some of that history. It definitely embodies the time period, with recipes that are staples, as well as curiosities that definitely show their age. In these recipes, I am learning more about my Mom and grandmothers, because they showcase a generation on a bridge. The rise of processed foods clearly has an impact, yet I can still see the traditions that stood the test of time. For example, my mom was convinced margarine was way better for you, but Hamburger Helper was for sad people who just didn’t know any better. In essence, she was a total purist with a blind spot for convenience foods that made life easier (I’m looking at you, canned biscuits). On to the matter at hand…

The devil-cold I thought I beat last week came raging back this week with the vengeance that only a secondary infection can bring, so I selected an easy recipe for this week. That’s also the reason I’m a day late with this post. Give me a demerit, with a chaser of decongestant, please. And alllllll the whiskey.

These “Carrot Fritters” were submitted by Mrs. Avery G. Landry and Ida Moran. The Heathen’s like carrots, and the husband can put a serious hurting on a traditional carrot soufflé, so I figured this was a safe bet for continuing to ease them into the prospect of regular kitchen experimentation.

The verdict? See the notes.

**Remember, I will copy the recipe exactly as written and provide my own notes, alterations,  and observations after**

Carrot Fritters

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Ingredients

  • 1-pound bag of carrots
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk (scant)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. butter
  • 1 egg

Procedure

  1. Boil scraped carrots until very tender. Chop hot carrots with dough blender until smooth, adding sugar and butter while still warm. Add egg and vanilla, blend in flour and baking powder and mix with a spoon. Add scant amount of milk, so that batter has consistency to be dropped by spoonfuls into hot cooking oil (this is not deep fat frying). Browning takes about 5 minutes.

My Notes

  • Ok, so to make this recipe clear, you want to cook your chopped carrots until tender (scraped just means peeled, but I don’t peel my carrots, so take that for what it’s worth). After that, I streamlined the recipe as follows:
  • After reading the recipe, I decided the food processor was the tool for the job. I put the butter and sugar in the Cuisinart, then added the cooked and drained carrots. I pulsed it briefly, then left it alone for about 5 minutes to cool off. (I did not want the egg to scramble in the hot mixture)
  • Next, I added the egg and vanilla, pulsed about three times, then added the flour and baking powder, and pulsed a couple of more times. Finally I added the milk a few tablespoons at a time (to be careful), but I ended up using all the milk. The result is a batter on the thicker side, and is cross between a fritter and a thick pancake.
  • I used a pretty large non-stick skillet and about a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, which I heated on med-high heat. I dropped about an ice cream scoop-size spoonful of batter into the oil and browned the fritters on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.
  • These definitely taste like carrot soufflé fried like a pancake or fritter, which my husband loved. If you like carrot soufflé, you will love them.
  • The sugar content in these makes them brown fast and easily burn. You have to keep an eye on them and cook them at a slightly lower temp than you would cook traditional pancakes or fritters.
  • I thought they were a little too sweet, but everyone else loved them. Next time, I would add a pinch of salt to balance the sugar content, and I would try them with brown sugar instead of granulated to add a depth of flavor.
  • Finally, this recipe made about 5 decent-sized fritters for our family of 5, but they are so rich, this was PLENTY. I was worried, but one per person is a safe bet.
  • If you try a CCTT recipe, let me know! Also, if you have a vintage recipe to share, let me know too!

What’s for Dinner? A Link List of What We Are Eating This Week

I spend quite a but of time looking for new dinner inspiration, because my house full of picky eaters must find a balance with my need to try different recipes while also having a modicum of variety in my diet. The Heathens have come a long way, (and the Hubs, if less so), but I still often find myself fighting the need to stab someone with a fork when my answer to “What’s for dinner?” is met with the pained groans of children who think my lovingly prepared meals are a direct and premeditated form of torture.

So, I decided to throw up my plan for dinner this week, just in case you need a little inspiration.

Today: Slow Cooker Korean Beef with rice and sugar snap peas. (This recipe can easily be made in the Instant Pot, and she may have even posted a how-to on that. Kroger had chuck roast on sale this week, so this was a no-brainer for me. The savory-sweet-mild spice of this recipe offers a good compromise for everyone. As for the peas, I just steam them and toss them with a little butter and plenty of salt.)

Tuesday: Glazed Pork Chops with Crash Hot Potatoes and lima beans. (The glaze for the pork chops for this recipe is wayyyyyyyyyy too much, and read the reviews if you don’t believe me. I cut it down by half, which is good for the 6 chops I make with some leftover if needed.)

Wednesday: Sticky Apricot Drumsticks with rice and a yet-to-be determined veggie, probably something for the CCTT post. (Rather than use drumsticks in this recipe, I am going to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs to make it easier for the kids to eat.  This recipe seems weird, but trust me, it works.)

Thursday: Maple-Mustard Flat Iron Steaks with Blue Cheese-Pecan Confetti and Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette. (Yep, not really kid friendly, so I may add a more appealing side and leave off the blue cheese and pecans on the kids’ plates. However, every once in a while, the person doing the cooking gets to cook something she wants. Using pre-cut butternut squash in the air fryer cuts the prep time on the galette way down).

Friday: Probably going to try this version of Indian Butter Chicken for the Instant Pot. (I am fairly sure skepticism will cause Heathen bitching, but I at least know the husband likes Indian food, or at least what version we can get in NW Louisiana. This recipe seems to have great reviews, so maybe it will be a good gamble.)

So, there ya have it. A few ideas that may be worth checking out, but remember, if you are doing the cooking, it’s ok not to be the picky eater caterer on occasion. They will live, I promise.

Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday–“Broccoli with Rice” (aka Broccoli. Cheese and Rice Casserole

To kick off the first installment of CCTT, I decided to play it fairly safe and select a recipe I was reasonably sure everyone in this house would eat. (For info about my CCTT project, read here).

This recipe comes from Cotton Country, which was published by The Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana in 1972. The book includes over 1000 recipes, and this particular recipe was submitted by Mrs. Armand E. Breard.

I made this following the directions exactly, and both the husband and the Heathens liked it. You really never can go wrong with a good broccoli rice casserole, and this version is a tasty, basic recipe that is also quick and easy to throw together.

**For CCTT, I will post the recipe exactly as written in the cookbook, but provide my notes and interpretations at the end.**

Broccoli with Rice

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Ingredients

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 package frozen chopped broccoli
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup grated cheese or one small jar Cheese Whiz
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked rice
  • Tabasco
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bread crumbs

Procedure

In a large skillet, sauté the onions and celery in butter until the vegetables are clear. Cook broccoli according to package directions; drain well. Mix broccoli with soup and cheese; add celery and onions. Stir in rice; season and mix well. Put into a greased casserole and top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. This cam be mixed ahead and frozen.

My Notes

  • I used a package of steam-in-the-bag frozen broccoli and I think it was about 10 or 12 ounces
  • You can easily substitute cream of celery in this
  • I used Cheese Whiz, and I think a small jar is about 8 ounces. If you can’t find a small jar, just use half of the 15-ounce jar. If you go with grated cheese, NEVER use pre-shredded cheese in casseroles and sauces. The anti-caking agent they put on pre-shredded cheese to prevent sticking also prevents it from melting evenly and you won’t get the best result in any recipe.
  • I only added a couple of dashes of Tabasco to keep the Heathens from fussing too much.
  • I’d say I probably added 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. of pepper for the seasoning, but just play it by ear.
  • When she says “clear” in reference to the veggies, she just means translucent/softened.
  • You can use seasoned breadcrumbs for this or plain.
  • Usually, the term “casserole” means a 9×13 dish, but when I added the mixture, it ended up being a pretty thin layer in the pan. Next time, I will use a smaller dish or double the recipe.
  • This would be a great potluck dish or side for a big gathering.
  • You could turn this into a full meal by adding cooked chicken, but I would consider increasing the sauce by half to accommodate the chicken.

 

 

Coming Soon: “Communty Cookbook Throwback Thursday”–A Haphazard Journey Through Grief and Seriously Questionable Coping Mechanisms.

See the source image

***Insert meaningful and insightful intro here…or not***

Before my mom passed away, she amassed quite the cookbook collection, many of which she inherited from her mother, or were gifts from the dozens of cousins, aunts, etc. that make up my huge, southern, zany extended family. And that’s where this post and the new series on my blog begins…

I remember spending hours flipping through those books, and not really understanding all of the history they contained, or what they represented to my mother. I would sit at her small, marble-topped kitchen table, turning the wrinkled, dog-eared pages while she miraculously bent our tiny, galley kitchen to her culinary will. Often, she’d pause mid-dinner prep to wash my cornsilk-like hair in the sink, setting a towel on the edge to cradle my neck before sending me off to a proper bath.

I always knew when she was feeling particularly down or frustrated, because that’s when she would fry chicken. After I had kids, she confessed that cooking our traditional fried chicken dinner (with rice, gravy, peas, and biscuits…preferably with mayhaw jelly), was a mental and emotional escape. She found that cooking that meal was the closest connection she could find to her own childhood memories, as well as a unique therapy when tackling the more difficult of life’s challenges.

When we moved to California, Mom was alone in a new place with no family and support system, which looking back, must have been incredibly lonely for her. Sometimes, her loneliness seemed like an invisible raincloud that blanketed our home, and she retreated to the kitchen like it was the only connection to her family and sense of home she could find.  I also remember that, during these low periods,  she pulled out the same few cookbooks from her collection, which were published works from the assorted regional chapters of Louisiana’s Junior League, churches, or other community cookbooks.

When she wanted to try something new, those were the books she looked to for a familiar foundation. Unlike a nationally published cookbook full of glossy photographs of culinary perfection, Mom was more inclined to try a new recipe that she knew came from the communities of her home state (as well as what came from her mother’s and aunts’ generation), and I think these books helped ease the homesickness that seemed to be her constant companion during those years. Other than the familiar recipes and techniques of her up-bringing, any recipe experiments began with a foray into those collections for research she felt she could trust. Looking back, I see that they were more like dictionaries and encyclopedias for a generation that wouldn’t see accessible internet or even unlimited long-distance calls for many years to come

By the time I was in middle school, I knew that the chocolate pie recipe I liked was in The Revel, the Christmas cookie recipe was in Cotton Country, and if I could not remember which recipes she had tried, I could always see her handwritten code in the margins to clue me in (a “check-plus-plus” meant she really liked it). I didn’t realize until we moved home, and I had spent more time with my extended family, that the various Louisiana Junior League  and community cookbooks from that era were staples in every kitchen. Growing up in southern California, I did not realize how much community cookbooks were such an ingrained part of our Louisiana culture.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to Mom’s cookbook collection, so when I stumbled across a copy of Cotton Country at a local bookstore, I snatched it up and ran to the register like I was Indiana Jones avoiding that whole boulder issue. What is amazing about the iconic cookbooks of the various chapters of the Louisiana Junior League (published in the 60’s and 70’s) and local churches, is that they continue to be staples in many of our homes, which is why I was able to find this one. For example, Cotton Country was published in 1972 by the Junior League of Monroe, with a first printing of 10,000 copies. Since that time, the book has gone through 21 additional printings, with some topping 60,000 copies per printing, and the most recent being 5,000 in 2016. The book I purchased is identical to the original publication, with the only upgrade being a hardback binding that replaced the annoying comb binding. The book has no photographs, hundreds of recipes, lots of original artwork, and demonstrates just how much a labor of love these books were for their creators. I remarked to my husband about how much work these books were for local communities, because they were complied long before we had computers and software to streamline the process. From the meticulous index to the sheer volume of recipes, I imagine this book, and those like it, was a momentous undertaking and a great source of pride for the women who created it.

As I flip through the recipes, they seem like a microcosm of a by-gone era, both good and bad. I see how much they focused on entertaining (some have notes “will feed 25 for appetizers, or 12 for entrees”), which is something I think we all could use a little more of (entertaining, that is). I feel like the more digitally connected we get, the less meaningfully connected we become to our friends and neighbors, and that a little real togetherness could do us all some good.  These books also often give the ambiguous language of seasoned cooks (“just add to your taste”), which definitely reminds me of the women in my family, and why growing the confidence in cooking through experience is important in familial development.

However, along with all the feel-good nostalgia, I also know that these books also reflect the imbalances of race, gender, and socioeconomic classes that were just as much a part of those decades as beautiful Crab Mornay in elegant silver chafing dishes. In fact, each recipe in my recent purchase features the contributors’ names not as their own, but as a subset of their husbands. For example, rather than see “Mrs. Ann Smith,” you see “Mrs. John Smith,” a tradition that luckily seems to have faded slowly as modern South catches up. If anyone ever tried to call me “Mrs. Bayou-Husband,” I’d probably snort my cocktail right out of my nose. I well know that as charming as many of these books are, and the nostalgia they trigger, we could uncover an entire underlying narrative of racial and class dynamics that deserves acknowledgement, and that I could never do the justice that it deserves.

So, let’s circle back around to what this post is really about. A couple of months ago, I lost my father suddenly, and without warning. I’m trying to process the year-after-year grief sandwich life keeps serving me, losing my grandmother, mother, and father in such a short, successive time. After Mom died, that grief was like acid, eating away at me and it’s pretty much been a self-pity party ever since. This was a trauma I did, and do not, handle well. Except for those times when I kick myself in reminder that I am so blessed, it’s ridiculous. I wallow, but I also kick my own ass nearly everyday because perspective is the first step to a more graceful approach to the grief sandwich digestion project.

I think one of the most difficult parts of losing both parents is that I also feel like I lost a connection to my grandparents, because my parents helped keep their histories alive through their own stories and memories (though I was truly blessed to have my grandmother on Dad’s side live to see all of her great-grandchildren born and to be here for me into my mid-30’s). My mom regaled me of stories of her mom, including that she was a master sewer though my mom could not sew a stitch. I’m scared that I’ll lose those pieces in the telling of the stories to my own kids, and that they lost their own maternal grandparents at such a young age, when I had most of mine into my late teens to 30’s. I had the village. My kids’ village has shrunk in ways they will never know how to miss, but it also encourages me to embrace what’s still here.

I decided that one way to try and prevent an even deeper dive into the unhealthy grief sandwich starts with these cookbooks that defined so much of both my mom’s life, but also all the people in my crazy, zany, lovable family. Both Mom and Dad carried emotional weights from their own upbringings, and I want to learn from what worked and what didn’t. As a crafter, cook, and general maker, of course my approach starts with “PROJECT!!!”

I’m starting a new segment on the blog called “Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday” in which I will make a recipe from an old Junior League, church, or otherwise community cookbook close to me. You will see an unvarnished attempt at the recipe of the week, even if it fails epically, as well as my notes on how to translate the vague portions and directions into coherent words for an actually repeatable recipe.

So, if you actually managed to read this, you get a gold star! Stay tuned for culinary adventures and plenty of mishaps. And maybe, by the end of this little or big experiment, grief won’t be quite such a four-letter word. No promises there, but I promise a good cocktail along the way.

Italian Pot Roast in the Instant Pot

I love my slow cooker, and as much as I love my Instant Pot, I believe that they cannot be 100% interchangeable when it comes to recipe outcomes. However, after forgetting to start my Italian Pot Roast yesterday morning, I decided to adapt it to the IP and see what would happen. With a couple of changes, it came out tender and delicious.

The ingredients are simple:

And it only takes about 7 minutes to throw together. While the cook time is a little longer than many IP recipes, I think trying to shorten it would result in meat that is not as tender as it should be.

The Heathens ate it over some egg noodles, and I did not have to pull together a more labor-intensive Plan-B dinner. Sounds like everyone is a winner, and sanity reigned for another day. Can’t beat that with a stick.

Italian Pot Roast

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Ingredients

  • 3-lb chuck roast
  • 2 TBS canola oil
  • 8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 envelope dry onion soup mix
  • 1 (14-ounce) can beef broth
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 3 TBS tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 3 TBS cornstarch

Procedure

    1. Season roast with pepper on all sides. Set Instant Pot to Sauté setting and let it get hot. Add the canola oil and brown the roast on all sides (this can be a little awkward but it can be done).
    2. Remove roast from IP and set aside. Add mushrooms and onions to the IP, stirring well so they can pick up any browned bits from the bottom of the IP. Return roast to IP. Top roast with onion soup mix, beef broth and tomato paste.
    3. Place lid on IP and switch to Manual mode for 70 minutes at high pressure. When cooking is complete, let it release naturally for 5 minutes, then manually release the pressure. Skim as much fat from the top as you feasibly can.
    4. Switch IP to Sauté mode Add the tomato paste and Italian seasoning. Mix cornstarch with 3 TBS of water and add to the IP, stirring well. Let simmer 5 to 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Shred beef to desired texture. Serve over hot egg noodles and garnish with parsley if you are feeling fancy.

Chicken Fajita Chowder in the Instant Pot

It’s been a bad couple of weeks around here, so comfort food that is nearly effortless is definitely dominating the menu. I adapted my Chicken Fajita Chowder for the Instant Pot. It’s warm, slightly spicy, and the perfect one-pot meal. It starts by sautéing seasoned chicken, onions and garlic:

Then you just dump the remaining ingredients in the IP:

Just 10 minutes of high pressure later, and dinner is served:

 

      • Chicken Fajita Chowder

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          Ingredients

        • 3 T. all-purpose flour
        • 1 envelope fajita seasoning, divided
        • 3 or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
        • 4 T. olive oil
        • 1 medium onion, chopped
        • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
        • 15-1/4 oz. can Fiesta Corn
        • 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
        • 4-1/2 oz. can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, undrained
        • 4-1/2 oz. can chopped green chiles
        • 3 c. chicken broth
        • 1 c. instant brown rice, uncooked
        • 10-3/4 oz. nacho cheese soup
        • Garnish: sour cream, shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips, green onion
          Procedure

        • Combine flour and  2 tablespoons of the fajita seasoning in a large zip-loc bag. Add cubed chicken and give the bag a good shake to coat the chicken.
        • Set Instant Pot to Sauté setting. Add olive oil, and when hot, add the chicken to the pot. Sauté, stirring occasionally until chicken is lightly browned (Some of the flour coating will probably stick to the bottom of the IP. This is normal, and will be fixed in a minute).
        • Add onions and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes, then add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Add the chicken broth to the pot and use a spoon or spatula to help deglaze the bottom of the pot (i.e scrape the bottom of the pot with your spoon to release those browned bits).
        • Add the remaining fajita seasoning, corn, black beans, stewed tomatoes, green chiles, and rice to the pot.
        • Put the lid on the IP and switch it to manual. Set timer for 10 minutes at high pressure. When the time is complete, do a quick pressure release. Stir in nacho cheese soup. Serve with desired garnishes.