Home Cooking

easiest, cheesiest, somewhat healthy-siest stovetop shells

Stovetop chickpea shells and cheeseI am a sucker for mac & cheese – pasta with a bite, creamy cheese sauce – need I say more? Comfort, nostalgia, simplicity. The best mac & cheese dishes I’ve made have involved multiple cheeses (my favorite employs a blend of gouda, fontina, and white cheddar), traditional noodles like elbows or shells, and have been made over the course of about an hour or so – spending time on both the stovetop and in the oven.

Organized spice drawerTonight though, I really wanted mac & cheese, but I wanted it pronto. I only had one cheese on hand – a Cotswold (double gloucester with chive and onions), courtesy of the outstanding cheese selection at Dorothy Lane Market, and the only shells in my pantry were chickpea shells (more on those later). I was also craving a little spice and happened to have a heaping pile of jalapenos from this week’s Green Bean Delivery, just begging to be blistered and piled on top of anything and everything. More importantly, I needed to not make a bigger mess of my kitchen. The one thing I have going for me is that my spice drawer is hella organized. I’ve been “spring cleaning” because AB has been swamped with schoolwork after work, and “spring cleaning” for me means “pulling everything out of every drawer, cabinet, closet, and crevice and making an enormous mess that wasn’t there before in the name of organizing and deep cleaning”.  I’ve been doing this all over the house and not finishing in one room before starting in another. So, amidst all the chaos, I wanted to dirty exactly one pan, a small handful of tools, and one bowl. Nothing more.

With all of these requirements, I took to the kitchen armed with my trusty box grater, and grated up my Cotswold, being sure to taste a bit of it prior to melting, to confirm its perfection. I thinly sliced a jalapeno and did a quick saute of the slices in a tiny pool of olive oil. In the same stainless medium pot, I then boiled my chickpea shells for an easy 8 minutes. After removing those shells, I then made a roux, and within 10 more minutes, I had a sumptuous cheese sauce and a big smile on my face. I want you to know the feeling that comes from a perfect dinner made in under 30 minutes with very few ingredients and minimal clean-up. I ate this dish on its own, but it could easily accompany a grilled chicken breast or a heaping pile of broccoli.

In my version, the Cotswold can easily be swapped for cheddar – I recommend a sharp one – or just a normal double gloucester.

Real pasta could also be used in place of the Banza chickpea shells, but let me talk about Banza for a moment because their chickpea pastas are some of the worthiest pasta substitutes I’ve tried. The shells have an extremely satisfying bite to them, comparable to traditional pasta, served al dente. They cook up quickly, and leftovers reheat fairly well (though, the texture is definitely better if served immediately). The big heart-winning fact for me is that they are made with chickpeas and only three other recognizable ingredients. Compared to normal pasta, a serving size has half the carbohydrates if you’re worried about carbs. If you like protein and fiber – and you should – double the protein, and FOUR TIMES the fiber. Weeeee! Locally, I’ve found Banza at Whole Foods, Dorothy Lane Market, and sometimes in the health foods area in Kroger.

Ari ready to play outsideThis recipe will make enough for four large servings. It could be stretched if served with anything else (again, grilled chicken or broccoli or both would be worthy companions). Also, while definitely healthier than most mac & cheese recipes (if using the Banza shells), this isn’t a super clean eats kind of dish. After all, we’re still smothering stuff in cheese sauce here. Enjoying a small portion alongside a veggie definitely ups the healthy cred. And again, it’s fast and simple, so you can spend just a little time in the kitchen and a lot of time outside with your pleading dog…

Ingredients:

  • 2 jalapenos, thinly
    sliced*
  • Extra virgin olive oil*
  • Banza chickpea shells (8 oz.)
  • 3 TBS unsalted butter
  • 3 TBS AP flour
  • 2 cups skim or 2% milk
  • 8 oz. cheese, freshly grated
    • (I used Cotswold double gloucester, and it was a damn good decision – cheddar would work though)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

*Omit the jalapeno and olive oil, if you’re a pansy if you wish.

Recipe:

  • In a medium saucepot, add about a dime-sized splash of olive oil and heat over medium. Add sliced jalapenos, and cook for 3-4 minutes. (This will bring the heat of the jalapenos down considerably.) Remove jalapeno slices and set aside for later.
  • Fill same pot with water, bring to a boil, and cook Banza chickpea shells as directed on box.
  • Strain cooked shells and set aside. Return pot to cooktop.
  • Melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk constantly for about 2 minutes until roux is golden brown and smooth.
  • Reduce heat to low, and whisk in milk until combined.
  • Simmer for about 5 minutes, until slightly thickened.
  • Add grated cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the cheese is melty and the sauce is gorgeous. (If the sauce is looking runny at this point, you can add a bit more cheese or a little cornstarch slurry.)
  • Add shells to the cheese sauce. Serve immediately with jalapenos on top.

Go forth and enjoy.

chicken noodle soup, for the souls that need it

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Welcome to my poor, neglected blog! If you’re a first timer, you can read my first-ever blog post here to get a little background (edits inserted since this was posted a few years ago). It’s been so long since I posted that I had to reset my password. My last post was about moving back to Ohio from D.C., and that happened well over a year ago. Oof. I’d like to get better about consistently posting since this is a therapeutic and enjoyable creative outlet for me, so I’ll resolve in 2017 to be better.

Speaking of being better – if you are feeling anxious about the future (as many of us are today), for any reason, I urge you to try to place yourself back in the present. I have to remind myself of this often. It’s something I still need to work on, but I’m doing my best. Look around you and really see what and, more importantly, who is there. Relish in any little feeling of security, no matter how small – even if it’s just the fact that the couch cushion has formed perfectly about your posterior as you read this. Wiggle around and smile. You’re home on your own couch, and you’re warm and safe. Fart if you want to.

Do something nice. Effect change in your world – it doesn’t have to be on a large scale, but it certainly can be. If you’re out in your community, actively making it better, keep on keeping on. If you’re fighting for what you believe in, keep fighting. You can do this loudly, but I believe you can do it quietly too, if that suits you better. If going out into the world to try to fix it sounds terrifying, start in your own home. Even if your home is just you, better yourself. Take care of people. Make plans with family or friends. Put your phone down for long periods of time. Work on strengthening real connections. Make someone else happy. Make yourself happy.

Start by making this soup!

Soup & Sam

This recipe is for everyone who has ever peeled the top off of a Campbell’s chicken noodle soup can and wanted more. It’s for everyone who has unceremoniously dumped that can of soup into a pan and then refilled the sad little can with water as the directions demand, then added said water to the soup and needed something more. It’s for everyone who has then sat down to slurp their soup and wondered why the noodles barely require chewing and the chicken tastes just south of what even bad chicken should taste like. It’s for everyone who deserves more from their chicken noodle soup.

We all know canned chicken noodle soup is garbage in terms of nutritional value. I actually still like the taste of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for the most part, when I’m feeling really sick, but I think it’s only because my mom would feed it to me when I had a sore throat growing up. My mom liked it too, but she would actually pick out all of the chicken pieces from her can and give them to our cat, Fluffy. The hilarity of the chicken pieces not being good enough for her but perfectly acceptable for her only daughter is just now washing over me. Thanks, Mom.

This chicken noodle soup is everything. It’s full of real, tender chicken pieces – all of different sizes, like little chicken snowflakes. It’s also full of vegetables and a little full of egg noodles too. It’s rich and warm and comfort in a bowl.

The keys to soup nirvana?

Crane Brothers

     “Sherry, Niles?”  “Certainly, Frasier!”

  1. Homemade stock – this couldn’t be easier, trust me.
  2. A little heavy cream and parmesan – again, trust me.
  3. Sherry. Trust the sherry-swilling brothers Crane.

A helpful note before diving in: about half of these ingredients below simply get thrown into a stock pot, so this is much less labor-intensive than it appears at first glance.

Ingredients:

Essentials

  • 5 quarts water
  • 3 lb. fryer chicken, cut into sections*
  • 5 – 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 2 peeled/diced medium onions
  • 4 teaspoons chicken Better-than-Bouillon base (3-4 chicken bouillon cubes would work instead)
  • 1.5 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp each – kosher salt, black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. hot paprika
  • 3 – 5 sliced carrots (depending on size and love for carrots)
  • 4 – 5 sliced celery stalks
  • 4 measured cups uncooked egg noodles
  • 1/2 cup Fino sherry (I used Barbadillo brand)**
  • 2 tsp. dry rosemary
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream (half & half would do the trick half as well)

*A roaster chicken will work, but it will yield a much less tender result. Also, many markets will have already cut up fryer chickens, which means you can just toss everything in the package into the stockpot. Hashtag EZPZ.

Barbadillo Fino Sherry

 

**Avoid what is labeled “cooking sherry” (even if you find a recipe that calls for it). Cooking sherry has so much added salt and other preservatives that you can’t drink it, and it’s an artificial, weird product. Stay away. If you buy a decent bottle of sherry (I recommend a dry Fino for this recipe), the end product will have a discernible sherry flavor, and isn’t that the point of an ingredient, to actually taste it? Plus, you can drink it afterwards (and during). Store it in the refrigerator and enjoy as you would a dry white wine.

 

Recipe:

  • In a stockpot, add 4 quarts of the water (you’ll add a fifth quart later on) plus the ingredients from the fryer chicken to the smoked paprika on the list above. Bring to a low boil then reduce heat to medium-low or low.
  • Let cook over medium-low to low heat for about 45 – 60 minutes with the lid on, keeping an eye on the liquid contents now and then to make sure they’re only simmering – you don’t want it to boil, but you want the chicken to cook through. (45 minutes on low did it for me on a gas cooktop.)
  • Once chicken is ready, remove all chicken pieces from the stock and set aside to cool. From the stock, also remove bay leaves and large onion pieces.
  • Once cooled enough to handle, pull chicken off the bones, also removing the skin, so you are left with only your torn chicken pieces. Tear apart any pieces larger than bite-size.
  • Bring stock back to a boil in stockpot, and add carrots, boiling for about 2 minutes. Then, add celery and boil for about 5 more.
  • Add egg noodles, and boil until tender (10 – 15 minutes depending on brand purchased).
  • Reduce heat to medium and add chicken back to the pot, along with sherry, rosemary, parsley, and seasoned salt. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. (I probably added 1/2 tsp, at least.)
  • Give everything a good stir and let simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.
  • Here’s where it goes from good to DAMN! Add your heavy cream and parmesan. (Remember that this soup will serve at least 10 servings, so it’s really not a lot of cheese or cream per serving.)
  • Reduce heat to low. At this point, if your soup looks too thick, you can add in that fifth quart (or less of water). If you do this, be sure to adjust seasoning if it’s needed, adding more salt and/or pepper. You’ll want to taste the soup at this point, whether or not you’re adding water, to make sure seasoning is right

The soup is ready now. And it will be even better tomorrow after the flavors meld overnight. In fact, if you’re wanting to eat it day-of, I highly recommend making it in the morning and enjoying it for dinner.

Serve hot, topped with a little more parsley if you so desire. A little extra parm never hurt anyone either. Commit fully and throw a grilled cheese into the mix. For all you local folks, Dorothy Lane Market bakes a Salt Rye that is just meant to be grilled and paired with white cheddar cheese.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!