Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore with Spaghetti Squash

Like everyone else the two days before the holidays are hectic. Putting finishing touches on things, wrapping up at the office, there are a million things vying for our attention the last two weeks of the year. Which is why I’ve turned to the trusty crockpot to make our dinners this past week. After a quick search on my new favorite recipe finding site, Pinterest. I found this simple, basic Chicken Cacciatore (originally from this blog, I think) and it was wonderful.

Since we were out of a few ingredients (like mushrooms, feel free to include them if you want!) I made a few tweaks.

Ingredients:
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper
1/2 large onion, sliced into half moons
1/2 large carrot, shredded
1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced 1/4 inch thick (I used green, it was what we had on hand)
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes (I used the ones with onion and garlic added)
3 tbs tomato paste
2 tbs minced garlic
Italian seasoning to taste
1 large spaghetti squash

Directions:
Chop up the vegetables and place them in the bottom of the crockpot. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and Italian seasonings. (Frozen is ok!) Place the chicken on top of the veggies. Mix the tomatoes, tomato paste and garlic. Pour the mixture over the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours. (I cooked on high for 4 hours. ) When there’s an hour left for the dish to cook, poke at least 12 holes in the spaghetti squash. Roast in a 375 degree oven for at least an hour, remove and let cool. If you want to reduce the liquid once the chicken is done cooking, remove the chicken from the crockpot and pour the vegetables and sauce into a large saucepan. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes uncovered, or until it is thickened. While the sauce is simmering, cut the spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the seeds and fiberous middle. Use a fork to pull the remaining flesh into strands. Plate the spaghetti squash and pour the sauce and chicken over the squash.
My opinion:
This was so easy, I made a freezer bag of the ingredients so I could just toss it in the crock pot on another super busy evening. I’ll add a bit more garlic and Italian seasoning next time. This would be equally good over rice or pasta. Enjoy!
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Turkey Stuffed Peppers

This easy meal takes less than a half an hour including cooking time. It’s perfect for one of those rushed, weekday meals.

Ingredients:
6 ounces ground turkey breast
4 green or red peppers
2 tbs olive oil
1/4 cup shredded carrot
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced onion (red or white)
1/4 chopped baby spinach
1/2 cup wild rice (precooked)
1 tsp Italian seasoning

Directions:
Cut the tops off the peppers. Take out the seeds and membranes. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a skillet, over medium heat, heat the oil. Add and brown the ground turkey. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Add the garlic and onions. Cook about 4 minutes, or until the onion in translucent and the garlic fragrant. Add the cooked rice, carrot, spinach. Heat through. Stuff the mixture into the peppers. Add stuffed peppers to an oven safe dish (we used a bread loaf pan). Cover with foil and cook 15 minutes. Remove foil and cook five more minutes.

My Opinion:
This dish was easy, filling and delicious. The only thing I’ll change is next time, I’ll add more Italian seasoning. The meat was well seasoned, but the rest of the dish needed a little more.

Modified Garlicky Chicken and Barley Soup

Monday was a bit chilly and perfect for a crockpot soup. We tried a new one that come highly recommended. However, only after I started making it, did I realize we only had about half the ingredients, so we modified it. It was excellent. I can only imagine how great the original recipe will be!

Ingredients:
3 cups chicken broth
1 large chicken breast, diced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot grated
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 can whole tomatoes with juice
Italian seasoning
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup barley

Directions:
Sautee the chicken, garlic and onions in the olive oil. Cook until garlic is fragrant, chicken is cooked and the onions translucent. Pour the tomato juice and chicken broth into the crockpot. (Note: Our crockpot is small. If yours is larger, you might need another cup of chicken broth.) Add the shredded carrot. Put the chicken, garlic and onion in the crockpot. Add the whole tomatoes (should be about 4 or five) to the same pan the onions and garlic and chicken were in. Sautee with Italian seasoning while mashing them. Allow the mixture to cook down. Add to the crockpot. Add 1/2 cup uncooked barley. Turn the crockpot on medium. Cook 6 to 8 hours.

My opinion:
The original recipe called for Italian diced tomatoes and celery. I think those additions would have made it a bit more like soup instead of stew, but this was still super tasty. It would even be good served chilled in the summer.

Homemade Pasta Sauce

Last week J and I challenged ourselves to not go grocery shopping and use up the items in our pantry, freezer and fridge. That experiment led to some pretty creative meals. One of the best was our homemade pasta sauce.

Ingredients:
small can pasta sauce (plain, no seasoning)
tomato paste
can whole or crushed tomatoes (you can also use fresh! 2 cups of fresh equals about 14.5 ounces chopped tomatoes. When we use fresh we don’t peel, but you may want to!)
Italian seasoning (we used oregano, basil, marjoram, sage and white pepper. You can use whatever you like!)
Burgundy wine
garlic

Directions:
Combine everything in one saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat to medium low or low. Let simmer for about an hour. This will cook down.

My opinion:
This was wonderful! Easy and filling. We actually originally used too much Italian seasoning, but by adding the wine and a can of tomato sauce, everything blended very well. In the future, we’ll add onions and maybe some green peppers to add variety as well as some red pepper flakes.

This week’s food posts are brought to you by #cookchat. My co-moderator, Matt LaCasse and I are announcing #cookchat’s triumphant return on Thursday January 20, a noon. CST. Join us for an hour of food filled conversation.

Baked Tomato Pasta with Spinach from Shape Magazine

Ingredients:
2 cup whole-wheat penne
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cup baby spinach, chopped
3 cup diced tomato, divided
1 tbs dried oregano (or any herb)
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup shredded low- fat cheddar cheese, divided

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 F. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add spinach and 2 cups of tomato; cook for 4 minutes, until spinach wilts. In a medium bowl, combine remaining 1 cup of tomato, herbs, and salt. Transfer the cooked tomato mixture to the bowl and stir well. Add pasta to tomato mixture and combine thoroughly. Stir in 1∕2 cup of the cheese. Grease bottom of baking dish with remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Pour tomato pasta mixture into dish. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1∕4 cup cheese. Bake until cheese melts, about 4 more minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

My opinion:
I liked the spinach chopped up to give for more even cooking. Do not overcook the spinach. When it starts to wilt, kill the heat. It will keep cooking. Instead of adding everything to a second bowl, I just used the dish I put in the oven to combine everything. Instead of oregano, I used Italian seasoning and fresh basil. Don’t skimp on these, the flavor is so much better with them.