Thursday, February 27, 2014

Easy Cheesy Chicken Casserole

Let’s revisit the classics, shall we? I’m talkin’ super simple and full-on comfort. Check out those ingredients, but DO NOT be put-off by their simplicity! This baby never fails, plus it freezes like a dream. (in full disclosure, I have posted this recipe years ago here on this blog, but classics deserve a second look.) 

I served this at my recent Valentine’s Day dinner party and no one seemed to mind that the food  on their plate was creamy and cheesy and from the classic 9 X 13 casserole. I made another smaller casserole semi-veg by swapping out the chicken for sautéed mushrooms. It was heavenly!  

Speaking of classics, here are some killer love quotes I scattered about my house and dinner table as decorations at the party.

"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."  (spoken by Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen)

 “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”  (Spoken by Catherine [or maybe Heathcliff??] in “Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

“To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the folds of life.” (Spoken by Jean Valjean  in “Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo)
For my entire Valentine’s Day menu, click here.

This is a horrible photo. You can't even see the green peppers in there! That's the best part of this casserole! Please disregard and use your imagination. 

Here’s what you need:
12 ounces wide noodles, cooked
8 ounces cream cheese (vegan is fine)
1 ½ C cottage cheese – large curd
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 Cup whole milk (non-dairy is fine)
½ - 1 thinly sliced green pepper
½ - 1 thinly sliced sweet onion
Some fresh parsley
4 C cubed or shredded chicken breast meat (or equal amounts of roasted or sautéed portabello mushrooms)

Mix it all together and bake. You could put the cheeses in a Cuisinart to get them totally creamy, or just use a wooden spoon and elbow grease. Maybe add some black pepper. Buttered bread crumbs on the top if you are feeling up to it. I’m telling you, classics are good. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cheese Straws

“Mrs Dalloway is always giving parties to cover the silence” 

Last summer my daughter and I both read Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" while we were traveling to Tennessee and back.  It's terribly difficult to describe the plot of this short novel, but I'll simply say that it's the story of a high-society London woman who spends an entire day preparing for a party. The supporting characters are all people who have touched her life in some way or other - some are invited to the party and others are not. I was never really sure if Mrs. Dalloway is a happy person or a discontent person. The quote above makes her seem very shallow and trivial, but I liked her.  Obviously, I am not a literary critic!

The novel touches on so many themes - including mental illness, suicide, unrequited love and post traumatic stress.  The story is set in 1914, which I love and the book is chock full of memorable lines. My daughter and I kept interrupting each other to read aloud.

"Mom, listen, 'The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames.'” 

"Jenny, listen, 'What does the brain matter when compared with the heart?'"

"Mom, listen, 'She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.'"

"Jenny, listen, 'They went in and out of each other's minds without any effort.'" 

Needless to say, Mrs. Dalloway's party is a great success and she is the toast of the town. We, the readers, are left to wonder if that's all that's needed for happiness in this life..... "Her life was a tissue of vanity and deceit." 

And speaking of parties, here's another appetizer I served at my recent Valentine’s Day dinner party – everyone always loves these. Click here for the recipe which is on my other blog – did you know I used to write another blog? Lots of great stuff over there.

I think it's important to consider if you want your appetizers to be eaten with fingers or with silverware. If you go with silverware, then you need places where folks can set their drinks. You also need plates. 

For my entire Valentine's Day menu, click here

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lemon Ginger Shrimp

I hosted a dinner party on Valentine’s Day. I made it super easy on myself and served a casserole, roasted vegetables and salad. I don’t think friends minded or even noticed that the food was simple and comforting. It’s most fun just to be together, right? Besides, as long as the dessert is killer, who remembers what the main meal is.

My table was so pretty – all my best china, silverware and stemware. Bonus – I used my red Christmas chargers and they were the perfect Valentine touch. Red candles, roses, fun love quotes scattered around. Oh, and lots of wine and beer….. (secret to a great party!) Pandora station: Bossa nova … check it out – my new addiction.

Another great success of my party was the special wine my friend Dawn brought. She actually researched both a white and red to enhance a chicken casserole. We loved our mini wine tasting during the meal….and especially loved the dessert wine – a delicious Moscato d’Asti.

Here’s my menu – I’ll share recipes!

Hors d’oeuvres: Lemon Ginger Shrimp, Cheese Straws, store bought olives and marinated mushrooms

Main Course: Cheesy Chicken Casserole, Roasted asparagus and carrots, Romaine Salad with lemony dressing (I rarely serve dinner rolls)

Dessert: Lemon Cheesecake with Lemon Curd and German Chocolate Nutty Pie (made by my friend Laura and totally perfect!)

Here’s what you need: (I adapted this from a few recipes I researched on
2-3 lbs jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
¼ C olive oil
2 t sesame oil
¼ C lemon juice
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and minces
¼ C fresh cilantro
1 t paprika
Salt, pepper

Here’s what you do:

Prepare the shrimp and set aside. Mix the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pour over the raw shrimp and marinate for 2 hours (no longer though). Grill the shrimp over medium heat, allowing some of the thick marinade to cling to the shrimp. I skewered mine after I grilled them. But you could skewer them first, I imagine, and have equal success. Never overcook shrimp! Just till pink – then they’re done! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Signs of the Season – dealing with tomatoes and snow

You can tell it’s winter in Michigan by looking at the tomatoes in the grocery store.

You can also tell it’s winter in Michigan by the ghastly amounts of snow, but that’s another story.

At first glance, these tomatoes seem fine, but take a close look at their freakish pink color, their hothouse sameness and their bizarre uniformity. Something is wrong. I think it’s lack of sun and dirt.

Anyway, it will be August before you know it and we will have glorious tomatoes straight from our very own garden in no time – lush red, nothing forced, each fruit a unique and exquisite individual.  

In the meantime, more shoveling, more dark days, more sweaters…..and more dealing with tomatoes from, well, who knows where.

If you find yourself with a dozen rock hard, flavorless, mealy tomatoes, I highly suggest you follow my example:

Remove the skins by coring the tomato and dropping them into gently boiling water for a minute or so. The skins should easily peel off. Scrape out the flavorless guts of the tomato. Slather them in olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until some color is appearing on the tomatoes. You are creating flavor!

I tossed mine over some garlicky pasta. I threw in some fresh spinach for good measure – Delicious!