Monday, October 29, 2007

Chicken Noodle Casserole

I already knew it had been quite awhile since I had posted, but then today Jason even commented on how long it had been! (Jason usually doesn't "surf" the net, at least not like I do, but sometimes takes drastic measures when he is bored in class, and I must be in the rotation.) Well lucky for you, dear readers, I made a recipe tonight that got a thumbs up from both Jason and me.
It was a Chicken Noodle Casserole recipe from This was another instance where I already had an ingredient (in this case, egg noodles) and set out to find something to make with it. With this morning being pretty chilly (I actually had to let my car warm up and defrost for the first time this month), a casserole seemed like a warm, comforting choice for dinner.
I also appreciate meals that are baked because it's nice to be able to assemble something, put it in the oven, and walk away from it and have time to do something else for a bit. I try to multitask whenever possible. I generally have only about 4 or 5 hours of "awake time" at home each work day, and I usually struggle to find enough time for all of my interests. This is also why my house is usually a mess, the desk has piles of unfiled receipts and other papers on it, I have unfinished (or even never-begun) sewing projects, the dogs need to be brushed or bathed, etc. All of these things should be manageable enough to maintain, except that by the time I run necessary errands, do crucial chores (like laundry so I have something to wear to work), make dinner and catch up with my husband in the evening it seems like the day is gone. Then on the weekends when I actually have time to devote to these things, I feel like I am so tired from my busy week that I just want to relax and do nothing! I shouldn't complain because I know working parents have it even worse, but... sometimes it's hard.
So anyway, the point is that casseroles are easy and time-savers. Tonight, I ran to the grocery store after work (had to pick up some candy for the trick-or-treaters, among other things), got home around 6:30, put away the groceries, fed the dogs, started making the casserole, put it in the oven around 7:45, went into the basement, threw a load of laundry into the washer, and worked out (The Biggest Loser workout dvd... I recommend it!). When the workout was over, the casserole was done.
Here is the recipe. THIS IS NOT HEALTH FOOD, BUT IT'S GOOD!!

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
6 ounces egg noodles
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
1 cup crumbled buttery round crackers
1/2 cup butter
1. Poach chicken in a large pot of simmering water. Cook until no longer pink in center, about 12 minutes. Remove from pot and set aside. Bring chicken cooking water to a boil and cook pasta in it. Drain. Cut chicken into small pieces, and mix with noodles.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together mushroom soup, chicken soup, and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir together cream soup mixture with the chicken mixture. Place in a 2 quart baking dish.
3. Melt butter in a small saucepan, and remove from heat. Stir in crumbled crackers. Top casserole with the buttery crackers.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 30 minutes, until heated through and browned on top.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


It's been quiet on the blogging front lately. For the most part, that's been because I haven't made any blog-worthy recipes. But tonight I made pralines and thought I'd blog about that.
The photo doesn't do them justice... although I don't know that they look much better in 'real life.' Jason said 'they look like poo!' but then quickly clarified that he meant all pralines in general, not mine in particular. Thanks, sweetie.
Anyway, my friend Vicky is coming back to work tomorrow after her maternity leave. Some of us at the office thought it might be nice to have a few snacks to welcome her back to her cubicle.
I decided to make pralines mainly because I happened to have the right ingredients, but I also have kind of a soft spot for them in my heart. I was first introduced to them back in high school when I worked at Mabel's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor. I have never really been much of an ice cream eater, but when working at an ice cream parlor you can't help but eventually taste all the flavors, and I discovered that my favorite was Pralines-n-Cream. Then when I went to Savannah for the first time I indulged in some of the free praline samples at the candy shops on River Street.
I had two different recipes for pralines: one called for buttermilk and the other for whipping cream. I had tried the recipe using whipping cream awhile back, and didn't really like how they turned out. The sugar had overly crystallized and made them taste almost sandy, but that could have been a result of me overmixing and not a fault of the recipe itself. I still had half of the bag of pecan halves left over, and I happened to have some buttermilk that I just bought to use in a chicken recipe, so I thought I would try the other version of pralines.
Here is the recipe:
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups pecan halves
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter
Use large pot--mix sugar and soda. Slowly add milk. Turn heat on low and let mixture come to slow boil. Cook until soft ball forms in cold water. Remove from heat. Add nuts and butter. Beat by hand until mixture turns light brown. Pour out.
I have two complaints about this recipe (I found it on the internet in case you were wondering). First, the mixture turned brown way before stirring in the nuts and butter. (I used my candy thermometer so I could be absolutely sure about when I reached the soft ball stage, so I know I was timing it out okay.) Second, that last line... "Pour out." Pour out into what? Then what? I ended up using my cookie scoop to drop small clumps onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.
This recipe seemed to turn out much better than the other one. The pralines are tasty! But it is a candy that requires a lot of babysitting. The mixture takes a long time to get to 240 degrees, and has to be stirred constantly so the sugar doesn't burn. I ended up standing over the stove for about an hour. So be forewarned!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Chinese food, Trader Joe's style

(more out of focus pictures... sorry! Gretchen tried to fix the settings for me to no avail.)

I could have titled this post "Almost as Good as Takeout, Part II" but instead chose to pay homage to the amazing store that is Trader Joe's. I honestly could not name a single thing I dislike about Trader Joe's. It's a cute store with a small selection of items, many of which are their own brand. Because they have such a small selection, everything they carry is fantastic. The prices are low too. If you haven't heard of Trader Joe's, I would suggest checking out their web site to learn more about them. There are only a few in Ohio, but Columbus is lucky enough to have two!
(Oh, one more thing I love about Trader Joe's: their circular is called the "Fearless Flyer" and it reads like a magazine! It doesn't just list items and prices... each item has a paragraph about it that is so romantically written you'd think it was the J Peterman catalog!)
On my recent visit to TJ's, I spotted this General Tsao Stir Fry Sauce and decided to try it. (You might be able to see on the label in the second picture that it says "Trader Ming's." That's another cute thing they do. The Italian stuff says "Trader Giotto's.") I had cut a recipe for General Tso's chicken out of the newspaper awhile back, but hadn't made it yet because it seemed complicated and had a lot of ingredients since the sauce was made from scratch. I figured I could use this premade sauce and really simplify the recipe.
Here's what I did:
I cut about 1/2 to 1 pound of chicken breasts into 1 inch cubes. I mixed 1 large egg (beaten) with a little salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of corn starch. I poured that over the chicken and let it marinade for about 15 minutes.
Next I was supposed to heat 2 cups of oil in the wok to 350 degrees and then fry the chicken in it. You have to dip the chicken pieces in corn starch and shake off the excess right before you fry them. Unfortunately when I was getting ready to start this step I noticed that I only had about 3/4 cup of vegetable oil left. I just made do with this and it still worked. The only accomodation I had to make was to turn the chicken pieces after about a minute since they weren't completely submerged in the oil. The chicken only took about 2 minutes total to cook. I was surprised by how successful I was at frying the chicken pieces. They had a nice crunchy coating.
I removed the pieces from the oil with a slotted spoon and blotted them on paper towels. I drained all of the excess oil out of the wok and into a bowl. Then I added about 1/2 cup of the TJ's sauce to the wok, and added the chicken pieces. I stir fried it until everything was heated through. The sauce got a sticky consistency and really coated the chicken pieces, just like it usually has when I order this dish from a restaurant.
Unfortunately I forgot to get any broccoli, but I did pick up some of Trader Joe's frozen fried rice to accompany the chicken. The fried rice was really easy to make in the microwave, but only tasted so-so. I think it may have tasted better if I had made it in a skillet with a little oil, but next time I would probably prefer to have plain rice.
All in all it was a good dish. I would have liked the sauce to have a little more kick to it, but I always like my Chinese food spicy. My very first job in high school was at a Chinese restaurant, and I always felt like the 'spicy' dishes weren't really very spicy. When I would order a meal to take home with me, the chef would always ask if I wanted it "American spicy, or actually spicy?"
Someday I'd like to make the recipe from scratch, but this bottled sauce is great if you want to do it in a hurry. And it's probably healthier (if only slightly) to cook this dish at home than to order take-out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

White Russian Cupcakes

Friday was my mom's birthday. My sisters and I went to her house to celebrate, and I decided to bake some cupcakes for the occasion. I had gotten the book Cupcakes: From the Cake Mix Doctor (by Anne Byrn, the same author of the doomed asparagus blue cheese pesto pasta recipe from a few posts ago) from the library and copied a bunch of recipes I wanted to try, so I emailed my mom the following list of flavors and asked her which she might like:

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
White Russian
Key Lime Pie
Lemon Chiffon
Orange Almond
Chocolate Peanut Butter

She responded favorably to the idea of White Russian or Chocolate Peanut Butter. The Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcake recipe I had was actually from a Barefoot Contessa cookbook, and was a 'from scratch' recipe, whereas all of the Anne Byrn recipes start with a cake mix, so I decided to go with the White Russian recipe.
Here it is:
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow cake mix
1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup whole milk
4 large eggs
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Kahlua
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Kahlua Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Kahlua
2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate shavings
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper lines. Set the pans aside.
2. Prepare the cupake batter: Place the cake mix, pudding mix, oil, milk, eggs, vodka, 1/4 cup Kahlua, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. Spoon or scoop 1/3 cup batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it three quarters of the way full. Place the pans in the oven.
3. Bake the cupcakes until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 17 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. Brush the tops of the cupcakes with the remaining 2 tablespoons Kahlua. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before frosting.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the frosting: Place a large, clean mixing bowl and electric mixing beaters in the freezer to chill for 1 minute. Remove the bowl and beaters from the freezer. Pour the cream into the bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until the cream has thickened, 1 1/2 minutes. Stop the machine and add the sugar and Kahlua. Beat the cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes more.
5. Place a heaping tablespoon of the whipped cream on each cupcake and swirl to spread it out with a short spatula or a spoon, taking care to cover the tops completely. Garnish with chocolate shavings. The cupcakes are ready to serve. Store these cupcakes, in a cake saver, in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.

The cupcakes were pretty good! I was a little surprised at how heavy the alcohol favor was in the baked cupcakes, and it really did taste like a White Russian. I did not like the whipped cream icing... it just seemed a little too light. if I made these again I would try to use some sort of butter cream icing with Kahlua in it. I would recommend this recipe and I can't wait to try others from this book.