Mexican chicken casserole

My daughter recently came home from college for the summer and she was teasing my husband and I that we are hoarders from looking in our freezer and pantry.  Now in reality there really isn’t much, BUT she is a college student so probably not used to seeing food in her apartment.  She said I have never seen so many cans and a packed freezer.  We have a lot of homemade spaghetti sauce, chili and other food that we froze in the freezer.  We don’t usually buy a lot of canned products but there were some that we bought during sales for when we were rushed and needed something. Most of it was canned tomato products, beans, and soups.

I was going to just make chicken tacos or burritos for dinner as I wanted to use up a bunch of tortillas we hadbut we have that a lot.  I decided to use up some of the cans that we had and make something new.  This recipe is something that is easy, tasty and you probably have all the ingredients you will need in your pantry.  I usually like to make meals using fresh ingredients and from scratch but as mothers and with the busy lives we all have sometimes it is nice to be able to just throw something together.

We could also call this pantry chicken casserole or I was thinking Mexican chicken lasagna.

Ingredients:

Chicken, diced:  I used about 4 small chicken breasts

Olive Oil

Garlic, minced 1 teaspoon

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can diced green chilies (4 oz)

1 can Rotel tomato and green chilies

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup half and half

Fresh mushrooms, sliced (optional but I like adding a fresh element)

1/2 onion, diced

Shredded cheese, I used an 8 oz package

Flour tortillas, I used 8 but depends on size of tortillas and pan used.

Optional:  Before serving top with green onions.

Directions:

1.  Saute your diced chicken in the olive oil and garlic over medium heat until cooked.  You can add whatever other seasonings you like but remember since we are using canned products you don’t want to add more salt.

2.  Mix all other ingredients (except cheese and tortillas) together.  Add the chicken and mix.

3.  Spray oil a 9 X 13 baking dish.  Place a layer of tortillas on bottom.  Using the flour tortillas I placed 3 on one side going a little up the sides and then cut one in half to put on the other side to completely cover the bottom.

4.  Place half of mixture, layer of cheese, repeat tortillas, mixture, and cheese.

5.  Bake about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Notes:

You don’t have to use the half and half.  The broth is to thin out the mixture a little but I figured I had a little half and half and it would add to the richness. You can just use broth or just half and half or milk.

Obviously, this recipe is very easy and adaptable to what you have available.  Have fun with it!!!

Not another Pot Roast!

So as much as I love making pot roasts…it can get tiresome.  So what else to do with that boneless beef chuck pot roast??  That was my dilemma last week.  I decided to still use my trusty crockpot so I could prep it, let it cook and forget about it for the day.  I was going to make pulled beef sandwiches….

Ingredients:

  • Boneless beef chuck pot roast (2-3 lbs)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup red wine (or you could just use more stock)
  • 3 Tablespoons Worcestershire
  • 1 Teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 Teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt, Pepper

Trim fat from roast.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place in crock pot and add the remaining ingredients.  Cook on low for about 8 hours.  Meat should be tender and be able to pull apart with 2 forks.

When cooked pull apart all the beef and mix with the juice.  Serve on a bun….even better if the bun is buttered and grilled.  Now here is the fun part.  You can eat it plain or top with coleslaw, a nice avocado aioli, BBQ sauce or banana pepper rings.

Grapenut Pudding

New Englanders know Grapenut Pudding.  I was amazed when I moved out of New England that people did not know or ever had this custardy dessert.  My Nana used to make this all the time and we always had grapenuts in the pantry.  I prefer this dessert warm with homemade whip cream but I know people who prefer it cold.   I will have to update and add a picture  later as last night I just dug in and forgot to take a picture.

You can bake in individual serving vessels or as in one dish.  I usually use an 8 x 8 glass baking dish.

You will find slight variations on the internet for this simple but tasty dessert.  Below is my grandmother’s recipe.  I recommend doubling it to make a nice thick layer in the 8 x 8 baking dish.

  1. Beat 2 eggs
  2. Add 1/2 Cup sugar, pinch of salt, 1/3 Cup (heaping) of grapenuts
  3. Beat above together.
  4. Add 2 cups milk, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon vanilla
  5. Beat all together again
  6. Pour into baking dish.
  7. Put baking dish in pan of water and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

Yes it is that easy!!!!!  It should be slightly jiggly when you remove it (remember it is a custard).  Let it cool a bit or a lot, your preference.  Top with whip cream or vanilla ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon or nutmeg…..oh my!  And sometimes I add nutmeg to my mix too…sorry nana…got it make my own.

Now if you start reading other variations you will find some say to scald the milk and soak the grapenuts in the milk for 5 minutes.  I did find a version like that from my grandmother too.  I have made this both ways and they both turn out delicious.  If you do scald the milk make sure you temper the egg mixture when adding the milk.

What is tempering???   If you add the scalded milk all at once to the egg mixture you end up with scrambled eggs–not what you want. Add about 3 Tablespoons of your milk to your egg mixture to slowly raise the temperature of the egg mixture without cooking it before adding the rest.

Since Post Cereal has added grapenut flakes to their product line I want to make sure you all know it is not the flakes but the original grapenuts…those little nuggets of delicious.  I would also like to add that I believe whole milk is best when making this dessert but I have used lowfat.  It is not as rich but still works.

 

Parboiling Chicken- Grilling

With grilling season now coming back with the nice weather I have seen a lot of posts of whether or not to parboil chicken before grilling.  I find it funny that some people are so against it.  I don’t typically do this as I usually marinade my meat first however they are times that parboiling has its advantages.  By parboiling you reduce the risk of under cooking your chicken and speed up the cooking time on the grill.  This can come in handy during large grilling events or if you don’t have a lot of time.

This week I didn’t take anything out of the freezer for dinner.  About noon, I looked and took out the chicken legs.  They were not going to be totally defrosted so I decided to parboil them.  The trick to parboiling is not to boil but actually simmer in a fragrant broth.  You can use any stock you desire or water with the addition of herbs and spices.  I used some chicken stock and added onion, celery, garlic, and a spice mix.  Add just enough liquid to cover your chicken and bring to a boil.  Once it boils reduce the heat to simmer and cover.  Simmer until no longer pink.  The amount of time depends on how much chicken and the thickness but can be anywhere from 5-20 minutes.

Once cooked take out and pat dry and grill using your favorite BBQ sauce.

I think the mistake most people make is just parboiling in water and boiling rather than simmering.  I have never had this result in flavorless or dry chicken. I  recommend for drumsticks or bone in chicken pieces.  Boneless chicken requires less time cooking and is easier to determine if it is done.

Bene Pizza and Pasta

Bene Pizza and Pasta, a Retro Restaurant and Arcade is located at 12301 West Maple Rd in Omaha.  When we decided to go here we didn’t realize this place was on Restaurant Impossible with Robert Irvine.  We choose it because my son wanted to go to a place he could play games at and I find this online. I wish I had seen and visited it before and after the makeover to compare, but since I didn’t you will only get a review of the “after”.  I did notice as I was looking them up that at least online their logo “a Retro Restaurant and Arcade” is spelled wrong.  Something they should probably fix as first impressions are priceless.  Their webpage could use some overhaul too but let’s focus on the restaurant itself.

I did recall seeing part of this episode on TV as it was a big debate between the family and Robert about keeping the arcade.  I think keeping the arcade was a smart choice and if it wasn’t sectioned off as it is now then that was also a good choice.  The arcade doesn’t interfere with the diners and adds to the atmosphere and gives the younger crowds something to do.  My husband and I also enjoyed a few games while our 6 year old was playing.  It was fun playing those old games again.

I don’t understand how the décor symbolizes a retro restaurant.  It was pleasant, clean and bright but maybe too bare and not enough personality.  There was a corner “bar” type area that I also didn’t knew what it was used for or its purpose.  There are no waitresses and you have to order at the counter, then grab your utensils and napkins that are right near the counter and causes a clog in that area.

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We decided to try their special that evening for an appetizer of crabcakes.  First of all, I know it is probably not fair to judge crabcakes in the Midwest, especially when I have had crabcakes in Maryland and in Alaska.  Bene’s crabcakes were probably from a box and frozen…if not then that is what it reminded me of.  You couldn’t discern the crab from the binding.   I wouldn’t order those again.  We also got the cheese bread.  The menu does say 2 pieces ($3.00) but I was still expecting larger pieces.  The plating of the cheese bread also accentuated the small portion size.  If you were ordering this for a family you should order 2-3.

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My son got the spaghetti.  The serving size was plentiful and the sauce (gravy…if you are not aware a lot of Italians call the sauce- gravy) was excellent.  The sauce tasted like it was simmered for a long time.  It definitely had a homemade flavor.  I cannot recall if we ordered a kids spaghetti and if they have a kids sauce and regular sauce, but the sauce did seem to have red pepper in it as there was a little heat on the back end.  My son is used to our homemade sauces and seasonings including some heat, but other little ones may think it was spicy.  Finally, we ordered a Gracie’s special pizza.  Gracie’s special has sausage, pepperoni, black olives, mushrooms, onions, artichoke hearts and mozzarella.  It was a thinner crust pizza (which I enjoy).

 

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The owner/ manager came out to ask how everything was and brought us to go containers and was very friendly.  While we were there it was slow, but there was a table of about 8-10 men who seemed to be regulars and enjoying themselves.  As mentioned at the beginning, I do not know what changes Robert made (I need to watch the show) and maybe it is the location that is hindering their success.  The pizza was good, their marinara sauce is advertised and tasted homemade, and they have a niche with the arcade.  In my opinion, they need to rethink the counter ordering and have wait staff.  The counter can still be used for take out and possibly for those sitting on that side of the establishment.  This would help with the bottleneck that happens at the counter and patrons getting their utensils and napkins.  We would go back with our son as he can enjoy the arcade area.  Unfortunately, although the pizza was good I would only eat here for lunch and only come for dinner if we were bringing the children, due to the lack of atmosphere.  In fact, a couple came in while we were there and then walked out.  Ordering at a counter and sitting in a very bright atmosphere does not equal romantic or date night.  The atmosphere was too sterile and cafeteria like.

Omaha Tap House

Omaha Tap House, is located at 1403 Farnam St in Omaha Nebraska.  They do have a lot of beer offerings and advertise that they rotate frequently however on the day we went a lot of the draft beer were IPAs, darker beers or the more common offerings.  All that being said my hubby was satisfied while I ordered a Bloody Mary.  What I look for at a “tap house” are a variety of beers and from breweries that one doesn’t normally see.

OTH bloody mary

The Bloody Mary was excellent and I highly recommend it if you are looking for a Spicy Bloody Mary.  It may be too spicy for the average customer, but I applaud bars that make a “special” Bloody Mary.  As you can see it comes garnished with lemon, lime, pickle, olives, celery and a salted rim.

I didn’t order but they also have a Bloody Mary that comes with a mini- burger on it!!

It wasn’t too busy but it took quite a while after we ordered our drinks for them to arrive, about 15 minutes.

Onto the most important part, the FOOD.  Omaha Tap House states they are a gastropub.  If I was to rate it on being a gastropub I would have to say they failed.  Their focus is on burgers and sandwiches and while very good it is not on the level of what would be served at a gastropub. We decided to start with some raspberry inferno wings since I can never say no to wings.  The wings ended up coming out the same time as our food order.

OTP wings

The wings didn’t come with any dipping sauce and we were not offered any.  The presentation ordinary and uninviting.  We expected the sauce to be sweet from the raspberry with that burn on the back end.  We could not detect any sweetness or raspberry flavor at all.  The wings just had a hot taste and were a tad bit overcooked and dry.  There was nothing special about the wings and unless I was just wanting a bar snack I probably wouldn’t order again.

Paul order the Popper Burger, $10.99, with a side of the beer cheese dipping sauce, $1.69.  I settled on the Steak Cheese Mushroom Sandwich, $10.99, that my server said was his favorite.

OTP burger The Popper burger came with  jalapenos, a jalapeno jam, cream cheese and brown sugar bacon.  He wasn’t asked how he wanted it cooked but it came out medium- medium well.  Personally, I am not a fan of shredded lettuce on a burger but Paul thoroughly enjoyed the sandwich.  He wasn’t expecting fresh jalapenos but was pleasantly surprised.  The beer cheese dipping sauce was okay but not worth the extra $ for the amount received.

The Steak Cheese Mushroom sandwich was served on a soft toasted hoagie roll. The steak was seasoned well and was very tender, but I was disappointed in the mushrooms.  You could barely find or see them and those that were there were over sautéed.  For the price, I expected more in this sandwich.  The steak used was excellent but the downfall was the mushrooms.  If they had more mushrooms that you could see and not over sautéed it would add a lot more to this sandwich.

The fries were seasoned and cooked well; a nice crunch with a soft center.  The fry basket to serve the fries was a nice touch but in my opinion combined with the metal tray covered in paper made the overall look too casual.  It also didn’t jive with presentation of the wings.  Using the fry basket with a different plating or keeping the tray with a different vessel for the fries would enhance the overall atmosphere.  It seemed mismatched and although the two ideas are great on their own together it doesn’t work.

Overall the food was good but the prices were a little high.  The menus were worn and dirty and the bathrooms were in need of some major upkeep.  A gastropub it is not but if you are looking for a place to have some beers with a wide selection of specialty burgers then check out Omaha Tap House.

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The Rusty Nail….take 2

I wrote a review of the Rusty Nail in Omaha back on March 11th.  I always like to give a restaurant a few chances if the first experience wasn’t up to par as let’s face it we are all humans.  Maybe it was a bad day for the chef, waitress or other staff.  My first write up was a very positive one but unfortunately this one wasn’t the same.

It was a Sunday and I was craving one of the delicious burgers.  To my dismay they do not serve any food on Sunday.  It does mention it on their website however their signage does advertise food it is disappointing to come in and not find any.  When I was there I witnessed several other patrons and tables ask for food too.  Possibly, they have one cook who needs a day off but they may want to reconsider that as they could be losing business.  In addition, to the no food on Sundays the service was subpar.  It appeared the server and bartender was more interested in a poker game in the backroom and setting up for an employees party.  I witnessed the bartender asking another employee (who was there awaiting for the party) where the waitress was as her table had been waiting for a check.  Apparently, she was in the back playing poker and asked the bartender to take care of it. No one had checked on that table for approximately 30-45 minutes.  The bartender also did not use an ice scoop and used the actual glass.  I hope this is not the norm and employees no better than that.  If this wasn’t enough the bartender and off duty employee were vocally complaining about their management and other employees.  Employees should realize that they never know who is around.  Thankfully, my first experience was a pleasant one.  I would go back there for the food and since it is near my home but probably not on a Sunday again.