modernized tetrazzini

Some people love leftovers while others cringe at the very idea. I happen to be a leftover lover. A delicious meal with a fraction of the work, um yes please! In my mind what’s even better than a no hassle dinner of leftovers is turning those leftovers into something entirely new and delicious. Think shepherd’s pie with leftover mashed potatoes (remind me to give you that recipe, it’s one of my families favorites), pea soup with leftover glazed ham or ice cream with leftover egg nog. Yum!

I’ve already told you that one of my all-time favorite meals is roasted chicken, but with warm weather (finally) upon us I’d much rather crank up the grill than the oven. Thankfully my husband received a “beer can chicken” rack last Father’s Day and has recently started putting it to good use. Have you ever cooked chicken this way? It’s ridiculously good and strikingly easy, especially if you have a rack. Anyway back to the leftovers— we made and enjoyed a beer can chicken last Sunday and ended up with a container of leftover meat after dinner. Chicken salad, chicken soup, chicken a la king… nope Chicken Tetrazzini.

Chicken tetrazzini seems to be one of those classic dishes that has gone the way of tuna noodle casserole (complete with crushed potato chips sprinkled on top) and sloppy joe’s. It’s typically made with some diced chicken and mushrooms, tossed with spaghetti, smothered in a heavy butter/cream sauce and baked until the cheese on top is bubbly and toasted. Tasty I’m sure, but not exactly a 2013 idea of nutritious. But if you make a few lower fat substitutions and really punch up the flavor with a bit of onion and spices, hello perfectly acceptable and surprisingly kid-friendly modern day dinner!

Sometimes those oldies really are the goodies. Perhaps next week I’ll try to modernize franks n’ beans…

Welcome to the Future Chicken Tetrazzini
This recipe is great with either leftover chicken or turkey. I typically use fusilli pasta or rotini, but you could also use spaghetti if you prefer.

NEW:tetrazzini2

1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
a pinch cayenne pepper
8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/2 cup brandy
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup flour
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup set aside
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
8 ounces thin pasta (fusilli, spaghetti), broken in thirds
3 1/2 cups cooked chicken, diced large
plain panko, for topping

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, black pepper, salt, thyme, garlic, cayenne and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add the brandy and cook 2 more minutes.
  2. Add the broth to the pan and gradually add flour. Use a whisk to incorporate the flour into the liquid and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and the cream cheese, stirring with a whisk until cream cheese melts.
  3. Remove from heat and add the pasta and chicken and stir until blended. Grease a medium high-sided ceramic baking dish and pour in the tetrazzini mixture.
  4. In a small bowl mix together the panko crumbs and the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the pasta and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and bubbly. Remove casserole from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

*adapted from cooking light

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asian inspired salmon burgers

I’ve already told you that ours is a fish eating house; sautéed grouper, grilled clams and mussels, stir fried shrimp and of course my award winning baked fish sticks. And while this pleases me, what would make me even happier is if my family would agree to eat fishier fish— ya know the ones loaded with Omega 3’s. Perhaps some sardines or a few anchovies, a salmon filet or even canned Albacore tuna once in a while. But the three of them (my husband included) all make such a fuss at the mere suggestion, that I don’t even bother giving a fishy fish dinner a shot. Sometimes I sneak a few sardines into my stir fry or add a couple of anchovies when I’m sautéing onion and garlic for red sauce, but the quantity is so small that I’m sure the health benefits are minimal. (Sigh) It really is too bad.

However much to their chagrin, I do find myself making more fish dishes around this time every year. We happen to be in the midst of the Lenten season and while my family does not prescribe to the “Fish on Friday” rule, I can’t help but notice that the seafood at my local grocery store seems to be at its freshest and best price during Lent. And who am I after all to ignore a good sale?!?

Some of my seafood experiments have been definite hits, some huge misses and some eaten and tolerated without complaint, but clearly not enjoyed. Sometimes it makes me sad that my family doesn’t like the dinner I’ve made and sometimes it delights me when they do. And sometimes… Sometimes I think what I’ve made is delicious and I honestly don’t care what the rest of them think— more leftovers for me! Which is exactly what happened the other night when salmon was $4.99 a pound.

I happen to love most fish, but boneless skinless sardines and salmon are two of my favorites. Imagine my delight when I walked into the grocery store one Friday only to discover that salmon filets were on sale for half of their usual price. (I was almost as happy as the weekend broccoli rabe was $1.99 a pound. Yeah, that happy!) Anyway once I drew the line in the sand and made the decision to serve salmon for dinner, I was tasked with the job of finding a recipe to win over my family of non-salmon lovers over. They all seem to like the flavor combination of ginger, garlic and soy sauce, so I thought that would be the way to go. And I thought that if I could offer up this less than loved ingredient in a much loved form, it would be more readily accepted. What does my family love? Well burgers of course, so I went with salmon burgers loaded with all the Asian flavors I knew they enjoyed.

The resulting burgers were relatively easy to make, cooked up in a matter of minutes and succeeded in finally getting some Omega 3’s into my families bellies. And what did said family think? Well, they all ate the burgers without complaint but also without compliment or request for a repeat performance. I however thought the burgers were delicious!

While I won’t force them to eat salmon again for a while, they can surely bet on these burgers popping up again for dinner sometime in the future.

Asian Inspired Salmon Burgers
I like these topped with a little hoisin sauce, a few slices of English cucumber and some fresh cilantro. They’re also fantastic on a bed of spinach tossed with cilantro, raw onion and diced cucumbers and drizzled with the homemade hoisin sauce.

salmon burger

1 3/4 lbs. skinless salmon filet, finely chopped
1/2 cup plain panko crumbs
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
1 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
3 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tsp. lime zest
1 large egg
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. peanut oil (or canola), divided
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce (homemade or bottled), for garnish
English cucumber sliced thin, for garnish
additional cilantro, for garnish
5-6 sesame seed hamburger buns, optional

  1. Finely chop the salmon filet and place in a large bowl.* Combine all the remaining ingredients (through sesame oil) and add to the salmon. Mix well with a fork until everything is fully incorporated. Divide the mixture into 5-6 equal portions, gently shaping each into a patty. Place the patties on a plate and chill for at least 45 minutes.
  2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peanut oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add the patties and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side or until done.
  3. Place a patty on the bottom half of each bun; top each with a spoonful of hoisin sauce, several cucumber slices, a few sprigs of cilantro and the top half of bun.

*The first time I made this recipe I used my food processor to do the chopping and ended up with salmon paste, it tasted fine but the texture was unpleasant. Chopping the fish by hand takes more time but it’s worth the effort.

*adapted from cooking light

Homemade Hoisin Sauce
You don’t have to make this from scratch, but why buy a whole bottle when all you really need is a couple of spoonfuls?

1 1/2 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
1/2 tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/8 tsp. hot sauce
1/8 tsp. black pepper.

  1. Blend everything together really well (I used a mini chopper) and set aside.

*adapted from food.com

A Cheesy Topic

…In 1993 Crayola held a contest to
name a new shade of crayon.
The winning name: Macaroni and Cheese…
The suggested wine to serve with mac n’ cheese
is a crisp Chardonnay… If you google
“macaroni and cheese”,
20,800,000 results will come up…

My son loves to play the “What’s your favorite” game. What’s your favorite place to be? (Anywhere with him and his sister, of course!)… What was your favorite subject in school? (English, he gets his love of reading from me)… What’s your favorite video game? (Words with Friends) and most recently, What’s your favorite vegetable? (I love most vegetables and I don’t really have a favorite). I’ve tried to instill my enjoyment of vegetables and healthy food in general in my children, and so far it seems to be working. My son loves anything with lots of onions and garlic, and my daughter is crazy about broccoli, raw carrots and celery. But they are kids after all and like most kids they also adore french fries, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.

I’m not proud of this, but I will come clean… there’s a bag of tater tots and some chicken nuggets in my freezer at this very moment. I’m a busy mom and sometimes I too need to cut corners. However, I draw the line at boxed macaroni and cheese. Have you ever tasted mac n’ cheese from a box? It’s awful. Even the organic stuff is almost inedible. So I set about finding a recipe that tasted good and wasn’t so loaded with fat that I would feel guilty feeding it to my kids. It took a lot of trial and error but I finally found a Cook Yourself Thin recipe that used real cheese and butter, but in restrained amounts. After a little tweaking on my part (and if you know me then you know I can never follow a recipe exactly as written) I finally have a meal that has the whole family looking forward to mac n’ cheese night. And naturally, it always gets served with a nice side of veggies!

Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe can be made with any shape or type of macaroni you like.
I’m not abig fan of elbows (too boring and not a great vehicle for holding sauce), so I usually use something like Campanelle, Radiatori or even Orecchiette.

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 cup skim milk, warmed
16 oz. dried multi-grain macaroni
1/4 cup aged Asiago (or Pecorino Ramano) cheese, grated
4 oz. Sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. Colby Jack, shredded
Plain panko crumbs (for topping)
Aged Asiago cheese, grated (for topping)

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and whisk until it turns a golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  3. Slowly add the warm milk, continue whisking and bring the mixture to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes, whisking frequently, until the sauce has thickened. Add the garlic powder, salt and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined.
  4. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Remove the white sauce from the heat, add the three cheeses and stir until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is smooth.
  5. Pour half the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni and give it a gentle stir. Add additional sauce until the macaroni is coated to your liking. (I often have extra sauce that I use when I reheat the leftovers.)
  6. Serve as is or sprinkle the top with some panko crumbs and a bit more of the Asiago cheese. Pop it under the broiler for 4-5 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Serve and enjoy!

*adapted from Cook Yourself Thin