Killin’ it with Casseroles

So, we have been on a budget crunch this summer transitioning from one job to another (and possibly irrationally spending while on a short little getaway with my husband, if we are being totally honest). Earlier this year my goal was to value more and spend less, and while I have made some great strides in this area, I’m not completely where I would like to be.

While I have made decent attempts at getting financially organized… by decent I mean, I did some Pinterest research, read some online suggestions, and created really REALLY cute charts and budgeting sheets with super cute fonts, I then proceeded to do nothing with them. Ball. Dropped.

I have managed to develop a nice little collection of “Fall Foods” aka… the casserole. Yes, that 1980’s to 1990’s style dish that takes a whopping 15 minutes to assemble and 30 minutes or so to bake. It is the golden child of week night dishes and frankly the ultimate in comfort food. Between The Casserole and a slow cooker.. you could really feel like susie homemaker even if you aren’t home until 5 o’clock each night.

I have come across some excellent finds, along with some not so great ones we have ditched along the way. Each recipe I share has either been adapted from a Pinterest big ticket item, or is a family one, and has been taste-tested and approved by the Connoisseur of all things Dinner… my husband. I have already shared with you my spin on the Classic Lasagna with my Spinach and Sausage Lasagna | Gluten Free  and the one I have to share today isn’t exactly the healthiest either, but it really is delicious.

I originally found the recipe from Incredible Recipes from Heaven and just the pictures on Pinterest ALONE sold me on this little gem! Between the pictures and the main ingredients: Chicken, Bacon, & Ranch I was SOLD! I knew this was a way to tackle my constant battle with the Chicken Hater in the house… he knows who I’m talking about too… and so do all of you since there is only one person that can be referred to as “HE” in this household…. Bacon, Ranch, and Cheese would definitely be enough to get him to eat chicken.

And so I present you with the Gluten Free | Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta Casserole. Um… yes please…! When I first came across this item, I thought to myself, “If I can’t get my husband to each chicken like this, he will never, ever, eat it. Period.” And let me tell you, he ate it, and he ate it again as left overs. That my friends, is saying something. There is nothing in the world my husband dislikes almost as much as chicken, but left-overs come in at a close second.

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But I digress… I began this dish with my chicken, diced and marinated in a bag of olive oil and delicious seasonings…! This made the chicken much more appealing to my anti-chicken husband. (The original recipe calls for Adobo but you can find this simple alternative HERE that I used in replace of the already mixed seasoning.)

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And then of course, frying up some bacon helped out his hesitancy towards any recipe involving chicken.

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If you do not have a double flip bacon screen, I strongly recommend getting one. I have two little crazies running around my kitchen the entire time I cook and the last thing I ever want is for one of my little balls of energy to get splashed with hot bacon grease.

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Once your bacon is nice and crispy, (I like to chop mine up before cooking, but feel free to approach this how ever you’d like – just make sure the bacon is nice and cold before chopping it) remove the pieces to a paper towel and drain most of the bacon fat, leaving just a tiny bit for the chicken to cook in.

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*FULL DISCLAIMER: As a person considering beginning a portion control diet… this is NOT diet food… which is why it is so delicious!

While your chicken cooks, boil your noodles to al dente, and by all means, PLEASE consider switching to Barilla Gluten Free Pasta, because it is AMAZING!

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Once you have cooked your noodles, toss them in the Newman’s Own Alfredo and Ranch dressing.

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I chose this specific brand of Alfredo, because it was the only one I could find guaranteed to be Gluten Free. I’m sure several brands are, but I really like this one. Of course you could make your own, and that would be wonderful; however, the purpose of casseroles our home are to be time efficient, and making an Alfredo sauce really puts a damper on time efficiency.

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Next comes the fun part: mixing and layering…!!

Start with your creamy pasta layer, and then add in your chicken and half of your crispy bacon.

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Give that bad boy a toss and then top it off with your shredded cheeses and remaining bacon pieces. Toss it in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes and ENJOY!

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I must admit, this one was a hit with ALL of the food critics in my house, and I will definitely be including this simple recipes into our week day rotations.

Speaking of rotations, have you ever found yourself getting caught up in the same 5-10 recipes for week nights? My husband complains that I make the same foods over and over… and that I make “plenty of good meals” I just don’t make them often enough. But when it comes to meal planning, and grocery list making, my mind goes BLANK. I have a heck of a time remembering what all of those dishes are. I know I pin some… I print some… and some I have on recipe cards, but I could REALLY use a good organizational system for keeping track of the recipes I love and don’t love.

Do you have any systems that work for you and your family? I would LOVE to hear about them! Reach out to me at shimmeringtwig@gmail.com and I’d love to feature your kitchen recipe organizational system on my blog!

I can’t decide if I need to take a digital approach, or if I need a good old-fashioned notebook LIST of the meals we like!

I will never forget when my sister lived in town years ago, opening up a kitchen drawer of hers and finding a list of “Jason’s Favorite Foods” it was hysterical! It was a list of all the foods he liked to eat! I seriously think I need to make my husband write a list similar to that! Just a reference point for those brain fart moments when you JUST. CAN’T. THINK. of a meal to make.

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Anyways, I hope you find a space in your weekly rotations for this Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta Casserole! Link to original recipe is here:

Gluten Free Notes:

Cheers!

shimmering-twig_small

  • Whitney
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Spinach and Sausage Lasagna | Gluten Free

Lasagna and I have a love-hate relationship. My husband loves it, and I have grown to “like” it. My Mom made it one day for some dinner a few years ago, that seriously turned out perfect. It was the perfect combination of sausage and ground beef, had the perfect balance of cheese, noodle, and meat, incorporated some amazing sautéed mushrooms, and frankly, was kick ass.

Since that lasagna, mine just haven’t held a candle. I have used gluten free pre-boil noodles, no-cook noodles, different brands of noodles, all with mediocre results. Something was always missing; whether I didn’t let it cook long enough, didn’t incorporate enough meat, or added too much cheese, almost every time there was something worthy of the Lasagna King’s complaint. I gave up on the dish for a while, re-evaluating my approach and basically putting the meal on the back burner for a while to avoid yet another failure.

After making my shift back to the home, I discovered the major ingredient I was missing was time. I was not taking enough time to prepare, layer, and certainly wasn’t giving the dish enough time to not only bake in the oven, but rest and set up before serving. When I was getting home at four thirty, some times five o’clock, I definitely did not have enough time to invest the adequate amount of attention needed to properly prepare a lasagna, especially with two toddlers in cabin fever over load running circles around my feet. So it was on my first week working from home that I decided to brave this dish again, but taking a “let’s start from scratch” approach.

I decided to risk it and try the no-boil noodles that bake in the oven, since my Mom always seems to have good luck with them. I used the Gluten Free Cafe brand and this really worked out well in the final product.

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I also decided to eliminate ground beef or ground venison and go for a mild Italian sausage (you could switch in sweet Italian sausage if you preferred.) One pound works well for a half-pan. My Pyrex dish is an odd size identified as 6-cup and you can find this dish HERE if you are in the market for a new baking dish. This is the perfect size for one box of no-boil noodles. If you decide to make a 9 x 13 and double the recipe, be sure to purchase two boxes of noodles.

I began the recipe by browning my sausage with a little olive oil.

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Once the meat cooked down, I added 1/3 of a jar of Del Grosso Meat Flavored Sauce. You can use your favorite sauce at this point, I just grew up with this specific one and will most likely always use it.

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continue to let this cook and thicken on low heat for a few minutes. In the mean time, if you haven’t thawed your frozen package of chopped spinach, toss it in a colander and run hot water over it. It takes just a few minutes to thaw.

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After thawing the spinach, be sure to drain it, literally ring it out with paper towels until all the extra liquid has been removed. I only used about half of the spinach, keeping in mind I didn’t want to freak out the Lasagna King with too much “Green” or have the threenage inspector obsess a little too harshly on the flecks of green spoiling her favorite meal.

I then combined all of the cheeses, eggs, and seasonings and tossed in my spinach. By this point, I really started to get excited about my new invention!

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Once you’ve mixed your cheese mixture, the fun of layering can begin! Start with a solid layer of sauce from your remaining 2/3 of a jar.

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Every time I open a box of lasagna noodles, I feel like I am putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are always slightly smashed, but luckily it doesn’t matter. And if you’re going for that suzy-homemaker quality look, just save the few solid pieces for the top layer. No one will know the difference.

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Once you’ve pieced together the first layer, add in half of your sausage mixture.

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Continue with a second layer of puzzle piece lasagna noodles, breaking the pieces as needed to fit into the dish you’re layering in. Then drizzle a little more sauce onto the noodles. I like to spread it around with a spoon once I’ve added the drizzle.

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The next step is to dollop on the entire cheese mixture. Yes, to please the Lasagna King we must have two time the meat in comparison to the cheese. This is so wrong to me, but the end result was delicious so maybe, just maybe he’s right. Once in a while.

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More Sauce, More noodle, repeat Meat layer, more noodle, and top it off with sauce.

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Cover your final product with foil and pop that bad boy in to a preheated oven and cook at LEAST one hour. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. There is nothing that annoys the “Lasagna King” more than a runny lasagna.

Once I pulled the dish from the oven, I knew almost immediately that the lasagna was going to be a hit. The noodles weren’t curled and hard on top, so the foil lid was definitely critical, I did a quick sprinkle of additional mozzarella cheese across the top to add a finishing touch to the dish and let it sit about a half hour before digging in.

I think the strangest part about being home more, is actually being ready for dinner before my husband gets home. I find myself beginning to feed the girls before he’s even home, simply because I can, and I feel so ORGANIZED lately. It’s been a real mental health check to say the least.

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I can report that my girls BOTH ate this recipe, spinach included, and never questioned it once! While I did add the spinach, do not mislead yourselves, this is not a healthy recipe! No, it is a rich, flavorful, greasy, and delicious twist on the average lasagna. Hopefully this will entertain and please the “foodies” in your household. Happy Saturday!

  • Cheers!

Whitney

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Spinach and Sausage Lasagna

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A simple twist to amp up the average classic recipe and please the picky eaters in any household

Ingredients

  • 1 box Gluten Free Cafe No-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb loose mild (or sweet) italian sausage
  • 1 32 oz. jar spaghetti sauce (Del Grosso)
  • 1 8 oz container Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed.
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese plus additional for topping
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 egg

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Brown sausage with 1 tbsp olive oil. Drain and add 1/2 jar spaghetti sauce. Cook until slightly thickened.
  2. In a separate bowl combine Ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, 1/2 of spinach, egg, and seasonings. Mix well.
  3. In a small glass baking dish, begin layering: Sauce, noodles, half of meat, noodles, & sauce.
  4. Add entire cheese mixture and carefully spread, following with a drizzle of sauce, and another layer of noodles. Add remaining meat, top with noodles and one last layer of sauce.
  5. Cover with foil and place in the oven for 1 hour. Remove and let stand 20-30 minutes before cutting and serving.

Food Post | One Pot Jambalaya

My husband and I recently had the opportunity to have a kid free “date day” and found ourselves in Central PA shopping and trying out some new restaurants. Once seated in our restaurant, something felt strangely repetitive. The Piano Bar was so familiar and the entire vibe of the place felt like such a deja vu moment I found myself lost in thought trying to place the similar memory or location when it hit me; I had been in this exact restaurant, ironically sitting in this exact booth, with my bestie and sister for a “mini bachelorette night out” almost exactly five years before.

I found myself reminiscing over the shift life takes in a five year span and began to reflect on how good life has been to us. Here I sat with my high school sweetheart, a free night for just the two of us that wasn’t super crazy but very much needed and two healthy girls having their own mini vacation at Nana and Papa’s house. Yes, life has been good to us.

After receiving the wine list, and feeling incredibly inferior to it’s elegance and class, citing brands I had never heard before, our fabulous waitress guided me in my choice steering me to an excellent selection for my naive taste buds. The steam bar was full with a wide selection of fresh clams that my husband and I debated trying, temporarily flashing back to our one trip to Maine knocking fresh clams off our food bucket list (permanently knocking them off of mine…!) and chose to refrain. I ended up selecting a flavorful dish of jambalaya while my husband chose a steak with some amazing potato side dish. We spent the evening eating and chatting, uninterrupted by a toddler’s requests or a one year old’s singing. Such a peaceful evening. As my dish arrived I knew I had to replicate a simple quick version at home.

Fast forward three weeks and here we are discussing the simplicity of Jambalaya. While I am no New Orleans native, or well versed in any type of culinary expertise, I do enjoy a flavorful dish and particularly time sensitive dinners. So I began to throw together my best interpretation of a One-Pot Jambalaya. The recipe I am about to present does not have seafood, but could easily be adapted by tossing in your favorite shell fish at the last moment.

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I started off with 3 tablespoons of butter and a Rotisserie Chicken diced up into two cups of small chunks (because, I SUCK at cooking chicken, and who doesn’t love a good rotisserie chicken?) tossing them both into a large skillet until the chicken began to get a slightly golden hue to it, approximately 3 minutes. I then added one package of turkey kielbasa sliced into neat little discs.

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YUM. I am reliving the smells as I type! After the sausage begins to brown just a little, add:

  • 1 diced green bell pepper
  • 1 medium diced sweet onion
  • 3 ribs of celery  diced

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Place the lid on the pan and let the vegetables cook for about 5 more minutes until softened. (I like a little crunch to my Jambalaya, so I did not go beyond 5 minutes)

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I then added 1 28 oz can of Crushed Tomatoes, 2 small squirts of minced garlic (yes… I keep it simple and buy the squeeze jar) and 2 cups of chicken broth.

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I’m looking for time friendly meals during the week, but flavorful. Canned crushed tomatoes, squeeze garlic, and chicken broth are all quick, flavorful additions to any meal.
*Disclaimer: This is not an add for any of these products, nor can I verify that the chicken broth pictured is 100% gluten free. 

I also did a little research and made up a blend of Cajun Seasoning listed below the recipe.

Add anywhere from 2 to 3 tablespoons of this seasoning blend depending on how spicy you want your Jambalaya. We planned on an alternate dinner for the girls on this particular night so we could turn the heat up in this recipe.

Stir the ingredients together and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is just beginning to boil, add 2 cups of Instant Rice and let cook an additional 5 minutes.

I did not go beyond the 5 minutes because I was worried about the Rice absorbing too much of the liquids. The end result of this meal was AH-MAZING!

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I am sure a year down the road I will look back at these initial posts and think, “Wow! Those were some terrible pictures!” But the reality is, that is what MY dinner looked like, real, and simple. And delicious.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

One Pot Jambalaya

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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A flavorful, simple meal, providing a homemade feel on those busy week nights.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 rotisserie chicken diced to make two cups of chicken
  • 1 package turkey kielbasa sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 3 ribs of celery diced
  • 1 medium sweet onion diced
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of Cajun seasoning mix
  • 2 cups instant rice

Directions


1. In large skillet melt 3 Tbsp butter. Add 2 cups diced chicken from rotisserie chicken lets cook 2-3 minutes.
2. Add in one package turkey kielbasa sliced and continue to cook until slightly browned.
3. Add in diced vegetables and continue to cook covered over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften.
4. Add remaining ingredients minus the rice and bring to a boil.
5. Add 2 cups of rice and cover, letting cook 5 more minutes.
6. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

 

 

Simple Cajun Seasoning

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients together well. Store in an air-tight container.

 

Recipe Review | Balsamic Dijon Roast

So, it’s pretty obvious to most who know my family that we are a Meat-and-Potatoes kind of crew. My husband is an avid hunter and keeps us well stocked throughout the year with a variety of cuts of meat. I do appreciate a good quality roast recipe. In my initial searches, trial and errors of roast recipe hunting, they all felt like they tasted the same to me… like simply a hunk of meat would taste. I continued to make several pot roast recipes since my husband did really like this style of meal until I came across my first game changer roast recipe. This initial recipe, which was so crazy to me, but SO. DELICIOUS was a crock pot recipe.

The recipe was as follow:

  • 1 rump roast or chuck roast
  • 1 packaged of Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning
  • 1 package McCormick gluten free brown gravy (this is a STAPLE in our house)
  • 2 cups beef broth, gluten free, low sodium

I literally tossed the roast in the crock pot in the morning before work, shook in each of the packages of dried seasonings and put in the broth plus an additional half cup because I knew it would be 10 + hours before I would be home and my Crock Pot did not have the timer setting on it.

The magic of this roast is the fact that it creates its own gravy while cooking! And it’s DELICIOUS! This is the quickest and easiest way to feel like you spent the day cooking when really, you were at work all day, or hopefully, shopping with your bestie all day.

Speaking of besties, I was fortunate enough to spend part of my weekend catching up with mine and snuggling her sweet new bundle of joy. She and I have been friends since childhood and she knows me better than anyone else! I could go on for an hour about how she’s the “peanut butter to my jelly…” the “yin to my yang…” and countless other corny sayings just to describe to you how crucial she is to my life.

She messaged me the other day with a recipe suggestion that she just loved and thought might be a good piece for my blog. Well let me tell you, she was SPOT ON. She sent me a pin from The Wicked Noodle, a blog now on my radar for excellent flavor combinations, with the suggestion that I try this Chuck Roast with Balsamic and Dijon. Now, typically when I hear the term balsamic, I hesitate a bit. Why? I have no idea because my adult taste buds love everything involving it. Perhaps it was a bad encounter when I was younger, but I’m so glad I resisted that naive thought process.

This recipe recommends using a dutch oven, which I happen to LOVE cooking in but do not use nearly enough. It’s a simple straightforward recipe that involves a total of 3 1/2 to 4 hours in the oven, so the perfect Sunday dinner. That is exactly when we tried this bad boy.

Simply start out by browning your well salted and peppered chuck roast in a couple tablespoons of oil, preferably canola, making sure to seal all the flavor in on all sides.

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Once you’ve browned all the sides of the roast remove from the pan and toss in one chopped yellow onion. I prefer larger chunks in something like this so I didn’t dice too small.

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Using the drippings from the meat, cook the onions until they begin to soften and absorb all the delicious flavors from the meat. This took me about 5 minutes. Once the onions soften add the balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil continuing to cook until the liquid reduces and appears to be slightly syrupy.

You can see the difference in the pictures above from when I first added the liquid to when the onions caramelized in the balsamic vinegar. By this point my kitchen was smelling ah-mazing! After the liquid reduces stir in the Dijon mustard making a nice creamy bed to lay your chuck roast on.

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Return the roast to the bed of onion mixture and add two cups of beef broth to the heavenly flavors that have already infiltrated the air. The recipe calls for fresh Thyme; however, I did not have that and replaced with a few shakes of dried thyme leaves. I would strongly recommend sticking to fresh herbs, they just were not available at the time of cooking this roast.

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Once you have added all of the ingredients, place the lid on your dutch oven and return it to a 300 degree oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

After the chuck roast has cooked for the given time, add in your carrots and teeny tiny potatoes. And, can I just add, that my daughters love teeny tiny potatoes? It doesn’t even matter what type they are, they love them! They also love large carrots! Switching from small carrots and standard sized potatoes adds a fun little spin on the recipe, so we went for it!

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After adding the vegetables, return to the oven for an additional 30 to 60 minutes. I chose to go for the full 60 because I love good tender vegetables with my roast.

The prep time on this meal was less than 15 minutes and so simple that I had enough time to grade some always lovely research papers for my cuties at work. As much as I would have loved to consume my time with meal prep in exchange for paper grading, both needed done, and BOTH were completed with a solid hour left over during nap time to do… whatever I wanted! I like to call that the Sunday JACK POT!

Once the meal was complete, I let it stand for a few minutes while prepping my little ladies final pieces to their meals and like all good Sundays, we sat down, together to eat.

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So, The Wicked Noodle hit the jack pot with this roast bursting with flavor and texture. Excellent job, excellent job.

Cheers!

  • Whitney