Thai Peanut Pasta Salad

FullSizeRenderPeanut allergy people and gluten intolerant folks, you might as well skip reading this post right now. My apologies in advance. But if you’re a fan of Thai dishes heavy on peanut, you’ll love this easy pasta recipe that can be eaten warm or cold. The recipe was requested by a Pioneer Press reader when I wrote the “In the Kitchen” column for that paper several years ago. It was served at the Marshall Field’s deli at the time (and might still be offered at Macy’s deli…), and executive chef Tim Tesch was happy to pass it along. After making it several times, I’ve made some adjustments—I’ve increased the peanut butter and sugar amounts, decreased the soy sauce, and added in some fresh garlic for additional flavor. 

The chicken can be grilled or fried in a pan, if making the dish during non-grilling season. (It’s never non-grilling season at our house. My husband grills year-round.) We like eating this while still warm for dinner, and then chilling the leftovers for lunches the next day. It’s great at either temperature. I suppose it’s the chilling of the pasta that gives it the “salad” name tag? Don’t let the title fool you—it really is a whole meal. Since it’s easy to make ahead of time, it’s great potluck fare, if you’re feeling generous enough to share with others. But you may just want to keep it all for yourselves. I’m OK with that.

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound chicken breast or tenderloin
Dash each of soy sauce, vegetable oil, and garlic salt
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (optional)
1/3 cup shredded carrots
4 scallions, sliced thin
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (in 375° oven for 10 minutes)
1/2 pound uncooked spaghetti pasta

For sauce

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup peanut butter (I use 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar (I use 1/4 cup)
Dash crushed red pepper flakes

1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish

Toss chicken in dash each of soy sauce, vegetable oil, and garlic salt; grill or fry until chicken is no longer pink in center. Once cooled slightly, julienne or chop chicken. If using frozen peas, rinse them in cold water and let drain until thawed. In large mixing bowl, combine cooked chicken, peas, carrots, scallions, and sesame seeds. Set aside.

Bring water to a boil and break pasta into halves or thirds and cook according to package directions; drain. While pasta is cooking, make sauce. Pour oil into large sauce pan. Heat oil on medium, and add minced garlic. Cook until garlic turns golden brown. Add peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook and stir on medium heat until all ingredients are incorporated, and sauce is smooth. May need to add 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup water at this point to thin sauce to desired consistency. Pour sauce into bowl with chicken and vegetable mixture, and add cooked pasta. Using tongs or large wooden spoon, toss all ingredients around until sauce coats evenly. Serve warm with chopped peanut garnish, or chill to serve later. (Garnish with peanuts at time of serving.)

Quick Jambalaya

FullSizeRenderOne-pot wonders. They are the saviors of the working woman (or man). The complexities of flavor in this chicken and sausage jambalaya recipe will make it a favorite at your house, just like it is at ours. When I first tried this concoction, we liked it so much I was making it once a week. My son’s girlfriend joined us for dinner a few nights, and this happened to be on the menu every single time! I had to apologize, telling her it really wasn’t the only thing we ever ate. Not sure if she believed me or not. Didn’t matter though—she loved it just as much as the rest of us, and didn’t mind having the dish repeated.

Traditionally, the New Orleans staple has seafood as well as meat, but we love this Martha Stewart quick jambalaya version with andouille sausage and chicken breast. My big cast iron and enamel Dutch oven* is perfect for stewing and simmering this casserole, and it ends up tasting like a dish that’s stewed all day, rather than 30-45 minutes. Sometimes I assemble this before work in the morning, simmer it for the suggested 30 minutes, and then put it in the frig. The whole pot can be reheated in the oven at 350° for about 20-30 minutes at dinner time. If you don’t have that much time to slam down supper, it reheats in the microwave perfectly well, too.

I couldn’t find the Old Bay seasoning from Martha’s recipe, so I subbed in all the seasonings you see listed below. I also found it needed less water than instructed in her recipe, and altered the cooking process a little as well. I’m sure Martha would be proud of me for being my own woman, and making it work for me.

Serves 6

1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/2-inch pieces**
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups homemade or store-bought chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (or regular paprika)
1/8 teaspoon each dry mustard, cardamom, and ginger
Pinch each of celery salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, cloves, and nutmeg
1-2 bay leaves
1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup long-grain rice, uncooked

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Set aside to cool.

Add onions to pot and sauté for a few minutes alone, then add the rest of the vegetables to pot. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Add sausage; cook 3 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Stir in stock, seasonings, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cut cooled chicken into 3/4-inch pieces, and add to pot with rice. Reduce heat; simmer for 30 minutes, covered. Stir one or twice. Serve.

*A cast iron and enamel pot is a great kitchen helper, and you do not have to spend a fortune on a Le Creuset dish to get good results. Macy’s carries a pot for under $75, and you can always use their 20% off coupons on merchandise (if you’re on Macy’s mail list). My work-horse of a pot was a gift from my son Brandon, when he was a poor college student, no less. He found one for under $40 at Home Goods, and it works wonderfully well. Thanks again, Brandon! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

**NOTE: I use 4 links of andouille sausage, and freeze the additional link in the package for another pot of jambalaya. It’s plenty of meat and flavor, and cuts down on the cost a little.

Chicken, Rice, and Almond Casserole

IMG_0693Casseroles feel like cold-weather comfort food, but this savory chicken and rice dish is such a people-pleaser that you can make it any time of year. This is my go-to recipe when I’m bringing a meal to a friend who’s in need of a meal, whether due to the happiness of a new addition or the heartbreaking loss of a loved one. It’s mild enough for even the pickiest eaters, yet has enough flavor to keep everyone coming back for seconds. Make this ahead of time, then cover and keep in the frig for a day or two, and bake up when needed. (I wouldn’t recommend freezing it as the milk or cream in it will curdle. It doesn’t affect the taste, just the appearance.) So how do you make this easy recipe even easier? By purchasing a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store instead of baking, boiling, or grilling your own chicken.

I got this recipe from a friend about 20 years ago, and can barely read my handwriting on the recipe card—that’s how much it’s been used! My guess is that it was published by the makers of Uncle Ben’s rice, as that’s the key ingredient, but I’ve got no proof of that. The recipe calls for half and half, which you can certainly use if you have it on hand. However, it’s great made with milk in place of the cream, especially if you’re watching fat in your food. (My farm-boy father would tell you to make it with cream. End of discussion.)

Serves 6

1 box Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice Original Recipe
1/4 butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4–1/2 teaspoon course ground black pepper
1 cup half and half or milk
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Prepare Uncle Ben’s rice according to package directions. While rice is cooking, melt butter in large sauce pan. Add chopped onion and cook on low until onions are translucent. Remove from heat and gradually sprinkle in flour, stirring until all the flour is combined. Add salt and pepper, stir again. Put pan back on low heat and gradually stir in cream or milk until flour mixture is smooth and creamy. Add chicken broth, and stir to combine. Turn heat to medium-high. Heat and stir until mixture is smooth and bubbly. In large bowl, combine milk mixture, cooked chicken, cooked rice, and almonds. Pour into 2 quart casserole dish and bake uncovered in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

NOTE: If using gluten-free chicken broth, this is a gluten-free recipe.

Spinach and Artichoke Casserole

IMG_0910Casseroles are great because you can get most of your food groups in one dish, and the addition of artichokes in this recipe separates it from the tater tot hotdishes (that’s Minnesotan for “casserole”) of this world. It goes together quick enough that I’ve often made it before work and thrown it in the frig when we know we need dinner on the table in a hurry. It only takes about 30 minutes to assemble, and another 25-30 to bake. If you can’t eat it all in one sitting, no problem. It’s great left over, too!

The recipe comes from the Better Homes & Garden website. If you’re a Trader Joe’s fan, you’re in luck, because their Parmesan Romano Alfredo Sauce is perfectly suited to this recipe. In fact, you can pick up all the ingredients below at Trader Joe’s. I couldn’t find the suggested orzo pasta last time I was at their store, so I bought the Harvest Grains Blend of Israeli couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa, and we actually liked it even better than the plain orzo because it has more texture. My other changes to the BH&G recipe? Added minced garlic, used a can of artichokes instead of frozen, subbed regular Alfredo for the light, and used white cheddar cheese instead of reduced fat Italian blend cheese. The ingredients and process below reflect my tweaking of the original recipe.

Serves 8

2 cups dried Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend or orzo pasta
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
12 ounces turkey (or chicken) breast tenderloin, cut into bit-sized pieces
4 cups fresh spinach, julienned, or chopped
1 (14 ounce) can of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 (16 ounce) jar of Alfredo pasta sauce
1 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
¼-½ cup Panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Have 9″x13″ (or 2-quart square) baking dish ready to fill. Cook couscous blend or pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, heat oil in large non-stick skillet set on medium-high heat, then add onion. Saute until onion is translucent. Add red pepper, and saute 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and stir until combined. Add turkey or chicken to hot skillet and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until meat is no longer pink. Stir occasionally. Transfer meat mixture to large bowl and stir in drained pasta, spinach, artichoke hearts, Alfredo sauce, and cheese. Stir to coat all ingredients. Spoon mixture into baking dish.

Bake for 15 minutes, uncovered. Sprinkle with Panko. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until heated through, and Panko is lightly browned. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving. (Ummmm…we never do. Just dig in!)

White Bean and Chicken Chili

FullSizeRenderIt was April in Minnesota and I was still seeing snowflakes out my window (noooooo!!!), so I decided soup was still on the menu. This recipe is not as heavy as a traditional chili, but more a cross between chicken soup and chili and is a whole meal in itself. I used to make it only when I had extra turkey on hand after Thanksgiving, but now I’ll buy a whole roasted chicken at the grocery store, and use that to get going on the soup. Make this when entertaining a crowd, or for a few, and freeze some for later. Since it’s not milk-based, it freezes really well. I found the skeleton of this recipe online years ago, but have tweaked and added to it so that it no longer resembles the original. The trace amount of ground cloves in the broth give a unique, yet compelling flavor twist to this southwestern-style soup.

Makes 8 servings

For soup:

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups ½-inch pieces cooked chicken or turkey
3-4 cups canned or homemade chicken broth
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, or 2 teaspoons dried cilantro
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cans (15-16 oz. each) great northern beans, drained
2 cans (15 oz. each) corn, drained
2 cans (15 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained


Blue or yellow corn tortilla chips, crushed
Sour cream (optional)
Grated Monty Jack cheese (optional)

Melt butter in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook onion first until translucent, and add green peppers to sauté until slightly tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring often. Stir in all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Serve soup with crushed chips and sour cream or cheese, if desired.

NOTE: This recipe is gluten-free if you make your own chicken broth, and use 100% corn tortilla chips.