Posted in Cooking, gluten free

Chicken Tetrazzini

IMG_1722The night-before dinner for the Cooper River Bridge Run (Charleston, SC) demands a classic power-pasta dinner, but my runner is pretty picky about his food. Luckily he loves Chicken Tetrazzini, and I am especially proud of how pretty tonight’s dish came out!

Here are the ingredients for tonight’s dish; some notes follow regarding dietary adjustments:

  • 1 package of thin spaghetti, broken in half and cooked according to package instructions
  • 1 whole rotisserie chicken, shredded (approximately 3 packed cups of shredded/cubed protein)
  • 3 cups of vegetables (my blend is fresh mushrooms, onion, and bell pepper, chopped)
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Optional toppings: shredded parmesan, garlic panko/bread crumbs

Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl; pour into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle desired topping. Bake for 30 minutes at 350°, 50 minutes if you made it ahead and had it in the refrigerator.

Makes 8 generous servings or 12 potluck servings.

Semi-homemade versus Traditional: This is a common dish for some semi-homemade action, using a store-bought rotisserie chicken or leftover grilled or roasted chicken from a previous night’s dinner, some frozen veggies, and canned soup instead of the homemade garlic parmesan cream sauce of a truly traditional tetrazzini.

Spaghetti versus Shapes: You’re right; it doesn’t have to be spaghetti at all. We’ve been known to use penne, bowtie, and elbow – basically whatever box of pasta is in the pantry. I can also confirm that egg noodles and even rice (gluten free!) work exceptionally well too!

More than Usual Vegetables: You may also notice that my measurements feature as much as 3X the amount of vegetable that a traditional recipe calls for. When I make a casserole, I’m looking for a truly balanced meal without needing a special side; that always means doubling or tripling the vegetables!

Fresh versus Frozen Vegetables: I also use a combination of frozen and fresh: always fresh mushrooms because canned are gross, but take help from frozen peppers and onions. When I have them on hand, I also add fresh onion and peppers to add crunch.

Sneak in a Vegetarian Meal: this dish is super-easy to make vegan. 3 cups of seitan, tofu or a blend is easily hidden by the wonderful flavors of the vegetables and the cream soups or sauce.

There are canned vegan cream soups already available. If you’re feeling especially domestic, make your own vegan and gluten-free cream of mushroom soup with my recipe, which has the added benefit of being corn free; 2 cans is approximately 1 2/3 cups of homemade cream sauce or soup.

Use mozzarella/pizza shreds both mixed in and as a topping.

Gluten-Free and Delicious: It may seem impossible if you’re new to a gluten-free diet or not kitchen-friendly, but either a great store like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or and great online store like Amazon Pantry can make it super easy with prepared gluten free pastas and canned soups. I would recommend first trying this dish with Manischewitz GF egg noodles and the Pacific brand of gluten free cream soups; I find that the GF egg noodles cook up nicer than many of the GF pastas and make the transition from traditional to GF pasta easier. Toast some GF panko or bread crumbs in olive oil and fresh garlic for a superb and safe topping (it’s what you see on top of mine in the photo :-)).

Posted in Cooking, corn free, gluten free

Chicken Cordon Bleu Bake

Keep the amazing flavor but take the work out of traditional Chicken Cordon Bleu with this easy layered bake:

If video does not load, click for the full YouTube video recipe.

Here are a few ways to round out the meal and make it a little cleaner:

Start with a layer of lemon rice: cook up 2 cups (raw) of white or brown rice according to package instructions. Add the juice of 2 lemons (approx. 1/2 cup lemon juice if using jarred).

Make your sauce gluten free and corn free by using Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Flour and either homemade or corn-free vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock.

Simplify the toasted panko crumbs to just fresh garlic, salt and pepper. For corn free, use HT Trader’s panko (unseasoned) for a corn-free option. For gluten free, use GF panko crumbs from the GF section of your grocery store. To date, I have not found bread crumbs or panko that is both gluten free and corn free.

Posted in Cooking

Chicken and Dumplings

Boiled stuff…all together…including boiled dough. Only the countriest of country kitchens in the American South have been able to render boiled dough a culinary delight.

My Grannie's chicken and dumplings, one of my dad's favorites
My Grannie’s chicken and dumplings, one of my dad’s favorites

Many younger and even some middle-aged (like me) Americans believe a dumpling is the original creation of the Asian cuisines: a little pocket of dough filled with something. They seem to focus on the filled part and ignore the boiled part.

You see, country people got stuff to do. They don’t have time to roll and cut the dough and fill it with the chicken and vegetables from the stock before boiling it. But at the very root of things, country American chicken and dumplings are arguably a deconstructed Wonton soup. Hmmm, so it really is all in the presentation.

For me, I’ll stick with ugly yummy classic American chicken and dumplings:

Step 1: boil chicken and make stock – these things happen simultaneously

It’s important any time you are making a chicken stock or chicken soup that you use skin-on and bone-in chicken and that you use both white and dark meat. Why? That’s where the flavor lives: in the fat and in the bone. I promise that leaving the skin on will not make your stock oily, only that using the most flavor-filled parts of the chicken will make it rich and dark stock. That’s what you want: not golden or yellow but a light to medium brown color!

  • 1 whole split chicken (ask your grocery store butcher to do this for you or buy 2 split breasts and 4 split thighs with skin and bones)
  • 4 large carrots, cut however you want (I like 1-inch barrels) or half a bag of baby carrots
  • 1-2 onion family choices: white or sweet onion sliced, leek or green onion chopped to 1 inch pieces
  • 3-10 cloves of garlic – depends on how many vampires you’ve got hanging around
  • salt and pepper
  • hot water to cover the chicken completely

Turn on the sink faucet to the hottest setting to let it get hot. In the largest stock pot you’ve got (at least 8 quarts), place your carrots and onions and garlic on the bottom. Place the chicken pieces on top of this; smush it all down well. Liberally salt and pepper the pot, roughly 2 tablespoons of each; yes, it really needs that much salt. Cover with hot water from the kitchen sink, probably to about 1 inch from the top of the pot.

Place the full stock pot on your large burner on high. It’ll take 20-30 minutes to come to a full boil; be patient. Let it roil for 3-5 minutes, and then turn it down to medium low to simmer for 2-3 hours. You want to see a tiny bit of movement on the water; it should not be completely still. Turn the burner off and get ready for step 2.

Once you remove the chicken for picking (step 1), you may find that your stock fills only half of your pot. If you’ve followed my flavor instructions and your stock is a rich medium or dark brown, add up to 4 cups of hot water to dilute the stock for direct eating. I often have 2-cup servings of frozen stock in the freezer and may add one of these as well; my freezer stock is actually broth with much more vegetables and already diluted for immediate eating.

Step 2: Cool and pick the chicken

Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the chicken from the pot. I usually place mine in a colander so that it gets good airflow for quicker cooling. Once cooled, pick the chicken.

What, you don’t know what that means? Truly I know a lot of people who don’t know how chicken gets from pieces to shredded. Before you get started, make sure you have a chicken plate and a discard plate; I use paper plates for this step. So here’s how it goes:

  • pick up a piece of chicken in your right hand (reverse the hands if you’re left handed)
  • use your left hand fingers to grasp the chicken skin and fat flabs and pull them off; place them in the discard plate or bowl. Generally breast pieces will have less skin and fat than thigh/leg pieces
  • switch the piece of chicken to your left hand
  • use your right hand fingers to pull the large chunks of chicken off of the bone and place them on the chicken plate; discard the empty bone to the trash plate
  • take up the large chunks in your left hand
  • using a pinching motion, use your right hand fingers to pinch and tear the large chunks into many smaller ones
  • continue until you have picked all of the chicken off of all of the pieces

Now some of you reading have already rolled your eyes and dubbed me patronizing to be so specific, but I’ve had the pleasure of teaching my same-aged friends and their children cooking basics, and you can’t even imaging how difficult it is to employ these basic motor skills for the first time as an adult.

NOTE: some folks also remove the vegetable flavorings, but I like them so I keep them. Other traditional vegetable additions include celery and peas (see side note at the bottom).

When you’re about 30 minutes from serving time, you’ll take step 3.

Step 3: Make the dumplings

There are lots of styles of dumplings, but the dough is about the same. If your people have memories of fluffy round dumplings, you’ll want to keep the following dough pretty wet and sticky; these are biscuit dumplings. If your people have memories of long flat dumplings, you’ll want to add a little more flour to form a solid ball of dough to work with; these are pie crust dumplings. The basic recipe is the same:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (make this gluten-free by replacing standard flour with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour)
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 egg

Drop them all in a bowl together and use a fork to blend them; do not use a whisk or you’ll end up with a blob of unblended dough inside the tines of the whisk and it’ll be a pain to get it all out.

If you want the puffy biscuit dough dumplings, stop mixing as soon as everything is combined. Drop the dough into the boiling stock. Since dumplings cook through in about a minute, this is a fast process.

If you want the flat pie crust dumplings, keep dusting the mixture with flour (probably 2 T at a time) and mixing until the dough comes together into a ball that does not sag or flatten and the sides stay smooth when you tough them, not sticky or tacky. Sprinkle a handful of flour on your clean kitchen counter and coat both of your hands with flour. Pinch off a generous handful of the dough and, on the floured counter, use your fingers to press it into a long flat lasagna noodle shaped dough. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 inch strips on the short edges (1-inch x 2-inch). Peel the dough strips off of the counter one by one and drop them into the boiling stock. Repeat until all of the dumplings have been dropped.

Add the picked and shredded chicken back into the stock and dumplings to warm for about 20 minutes. Serve piping hot!


Side Note: One of the most beautiful things about this recipe/technique is that it’s almost a chicken pot pie. Yep, use the same stock making, the same dumpling making, and use the stock to make the pot pie sauce. Really couldn’t be simpler.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Greek Penicillin–Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

There’s this new local soup and sandwich shop Ladles in Sweetgrass (the new Harris Teeter off Hwy 17 N) that serves up a fantastic Greek Lemon Chicken Soup…not tart, but fresh lemon flavor, hint of garlic, and just oh so comforting…even in the hot Lowcountry summer, which has gotten an early start.

But it’s not always convenient to go get it. And I needed something to make for my lunches this week that would make a little extra for one of our dinners. And…I’m a soup fanatic. Love it….hot or cold weather…but not really many cold soups.

So…what makes Greek Lemon Chicken Soup special? Well, to tell you the truth, it’s basically homemade chicken noodle soup with a special touch right at the end. Here’s how it goes.


  • 6 large chicken breasts, skinless and boneless (about 4 lbs)
  • 64 oz (8 cups total) chicken broth (homemade is best; for corn free, use Pacific Organic Free Range Chicken Broth or Harris Teeter Organic Chicken Broth)
  • 4-6 large carrots, cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 1-2 large sweet onions, roughly chopped
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper as desired
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous (little tiny pasta balls)–or 2 cups white rice which is more traditional and naturally gluten free
  • 3 eggs
  • juice and zest of 2 large lemons (alternate: 1 cup lemon juice)

Place the chicken, carrots, onions, garlic, bay leaves, and salt and pepper in a stock pot; cover with 32 oz of chicken broth (about 4 cups). Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. This is to cook and flavor the chicken.

Remove the chicken and add the couscous and another 32 oz of chicken broth (about 4 cups). Cover and simmer while you shred (or chop) the chicken.

Add the chicken back in and stir well.

At this point, you have a fantastic and well-flavored Chicken Noodle Soup…and might very well choose to stop here.

Or…you can make and add the “Greek” part.

Whisk together three eggs and the juice and zest of two large lemons (about 1T zest and about 1/2 cup juice) in a large bowl. Be sure to use a large bowl, much larger than you think you need, because next you are going to add 2 cups of soup broth while whisking.

Get 2 cups of hot broth out of the soup pot; it’s okay if there’s some onion or couscous in it. I dip the broth out with a soup ladle and into a large measuring cup with a pour spout. This will come in really handy as I pour it into the egg mixture.

Now, take the measuring cup of broth in your left hand and your whisk in your right hand (or vice versa if you are left-handed).

Start whisking away gently.

Dribble the hot soup broth into the egg mixture very slowly, whisking the whole time.

It will take about five minutes, so be patient and DO NOT rush this  step. This is called “tempering” the eggs, warming them up without cooking them so that when you add the mixture to the soup, it will become naturally creamy from all of the proteins!

When you’ve incorporated all of your broth, take the soup off of the heat and add the mixture to the soup. Taste and see what you think.

If you want more lemony taste, add some more lemon juice.

NOTE: this recipe is based off of one posted by Whole Foods for Greek Lemon and Chicken Soup.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Cooking Four Dinners at Once



Rich with aroma and flavor…a dense, satisfying dinner!

My dilemma:

No one in my family eats the same thing, which makes dinner prep sometimes challenging. One of my family does not eat salmon, which means any time I cook salmon, I have to also cook some other major protein for him.  Tonight, chicken is the compliment. Luckily, I’m in the mood for a preparation that I can use on both: oven poaching. Another eats only certain carby dishes and no veggies, while I want to keep a good balance of carbs and veggies. And, guess what, I can and will do this with only three dishes: 1 entree (2 meats), 1 carby side, and 1 veggie side.

Okay, the game plan:

    1. poached salmon and poached chicken breast (both currently frozen)
    2. potatoes au gratin (Betty Crocker box mix)–for the boys
    3. frozen peppers and onions sauteed with some fresh onion and purple cabbage over egg noodles–for the girls

Step 1. Put the fish and chicken out to thaw…or not. Since oven-poaching is the regular person’s way of saying steam or even en papillote, you have probably done this before…with frozen meat since the water and juices help with the cooking.

Light and fruity

Step 2. Choose a flavor combo. This will determine the liquid and herbs you use throughout the meal, but most importantly in the pan or baking dish with the fish/chicken. Tonight, I have decided to finally open and use one the bottles of Rose Merlot I recently purchased on my trip to Long Island to visit Rachel, Al, Carter, and Samuel. Rachel and I have always made at least one of our visit days a Long Island vineyard day. This past November, I found this Rosé Merlot at Palmer Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island; Palmer can ship wines to the following states: AK,DC,IA,ID,IL,MN,MO,NH,NY,OH,RI. With the lightness and fruitiness of this wine, I will pair the classic Herbs de Provence, a combination of thyme (dominant), fennel, savory, basil, and lavender (only in the US).

Alternative combos that I like:

  • lemon juice and basil/oregano/garlic
  • balsamic vinegar and garam masala (or curry and coriander)
  • pineapple juice and cayenne pepper
  • soy sauce and ginger/dry mustard
  • apple juice and all-spice (think pork chops that will be paired with butternut squash or pumpkin


You can barely see the wine, but it’s there, with a liberal dusting of herbs de provence. That’s two boneless breasts, two bone-in thighs, and two bone in legs

Step 3. Prepare the poach.

Since the salmon and chicken will need different cooking times, I use two 9×9 baking dishes. Since most of the liquid bases are acidic (I guess you could use water?), I try to use glass or ceramic baking dishes, but if I have to use a metal one (because everything else is dirty), then I am careful to line it with aluminum foil so that the acid doesn’t leech anything out of the metal and into my food.

Simply pour in about 1/4-inch of liquid. For a 9×9 pan, this is usually about 1/3-1/2 cup of liquid. Place the meat in a single layer in the dish (yes, touching sides is okay) and season as lightly or liberally as your palette desires.

Cover the dish very tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees: salmon for 30 minutes, chicken for 40 minutes.

NOTE: this is a fantabulous way to cook just one meal at a time and cut down on dishes to wash. Just prepare your one piece of meat in a parchment or aluminum foil pouch, no pan at all.

Step 4. Set water to boil on the stovetop and get crackin on the Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin. Sure, I can and do make these from scratch, but I have a 6:30 meeting tonight, and my family doesn’t care if it comes out of a box.

Noodles in the back, veggies and potatoes in the front

Now, the directions offer both oven and stovetop directions; I am choosing the stovetop preparation tonight because the oven temp and cooking times vary so significantly for the meat and potatoes that one or the other would be…well, yucky, to be technical. The stovetop directions require only boiling time and 15 minutes of simmering. And since I’ll already be at the stove doing the veggies (coming up next), it’s an efficiency of effort that I can’t pass up.

So, Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin, prepared just as the directions say. Once you get to the simmering step, you should be ready for the next step.

Step 5. Drop the egg noodles into the other pot of boiling water and cook just as your package’s directions say…around 8-10 minutes. Go ahead and set up the strainer in the sink now.

Step 6. Drop your veggies into the skillet with just a drizzle of olive oil. Fresh veggies go in first since they need a little more softening; the frozen ones were blanched before freezing, so they only need to thaw. Tonight I’m using fresh onions and carrots. And I’ll let them just sit still in the skillet for a few minutes with their salt and pepper and herbs de provence sprinkle, until I’m convinced they are getting a little soft…and they start to get a little brown…not actually carmelized but just a hint of starting. That’s when it’s time to drop in the frozen peppers and onions and pop the lid onto the skillet. Trap in the heat and let the water from the frozen veggies steam the combo with the lid on. Chop up the purple cabbage ( just a quarter head we had leftover from cole slaw a few weeks ago) and drop it on top at the last minute. Snap the lid back on for about 3 minutes…and you’re done.

I like to mix my noodles and veggies in the skillet together, but if you need to keep them separate for pickiness sake or figuring out nutrition, you can mix them on your plate.

My plate…a little bit of everything…with the leftover chicken ready for tomorrow night 🙂


All done. Ready to plate:

  • For brother: salmon and potatoes au gratin
  • For dad: chicken, potatoes au gratin, and veggies and noodles
  • For mom: salmon and veggies and noodles
  • For me: salmon, potatoes au gratin, and veggies and noodles

That’s four specialized dinner plates making four people happy and full coming out of one 45-minute dinner preparation, which is pretty normal when you consider all the chopping and pulling out pans and stuff.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus: for this meal, I’ll break down each item:

  • 3 oz poached chicken breast = 3 points
  • 3 oz poached salmon = 4 points
  • 1/2 cup Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin = 4 points
  • 1/2 cup egg noodles = 4 points
  • veggies = FREEEEEE!

So my dinner = 12 points


Posted in Children, Cooking

Making a Meal out of Nothing

Danielle: So, what do you want to make for dinner?
CeCe: Whatcha got?
Danielle: Chicken and feta, a veritable smorgasbord of choices there for ya <laughter>.
Um, but, yes, I am one of those annoyingly imaginative and versatile people who can take someone’s leftovers or still-frozen food and have dinner on the table and super yummy in just 45 minutes.So, what did I do with these insane options? Make a fabulous dinner in three easy steps.


Summer in her apron, ready to help me cook dinner!

Step 1: Entreé…I had my choice actually of frozen chicken breasts, frozen pork chops, or frozen stew beef. Since I already had a chicken idea in mind, that’s what I picked out. Simple. Tossed the equivalent of two chicken breasts into a baking dish…yes, still completely frozen…poured about 1/4 cup of lemon juice in the bottom, and sprinkled the top with salt and pepper. Actually, one of Danielle’s daughters helped with the salt and pepper. Into a 350 degree over with the timer set for 45 minutes.

Step 2: Veggie Side…here, my choices were very limited. As Danielle had no fresh veggies in the crisper, a salad was out as was any kind of sauteéd, carmelized, fried, etc. veggie. But, as any mom does, she had several bags of frozen veggies. We chose a steam-in-bag medley of green beans, wax beans, and carrots, mainly since her girls would eat them.
Step 3: Carby Side…since Danielle’s girls had already mandated mac and cheese (one of them eats ONLY mac and cheese), she always has a box mix or some Bob Evans mac and cheese.
As the timer goes off for the chicken, I turn off the oven but leave the chicken in. Meanwhile, into the microwave go the frozen steam-in-bag beans. Done. In goes the mac and cheese. Done.
Magic Sauce: While I make the kids plates (which consists of cutting up the chicken and the beans and cooling off the mac and cheese), I put one more bowl in the microwave. A special bowl…just for the grown-ups. Remember that feta Danielle laughingly mentioned? Time for a quick sauce. In the bowl is equal parts of regular cream cheese and feta cheese, liberally sprinkled with basil, oregano, and pepper (no salt because cheese is already loaded with salt). Microwave for one-and-a-half minutes, then stir it all together to blend.
Kids plates: simple baked chicken breast with a hint of lemon juice, green beans, and mac and cheese.
Grown-up plates: Baked Lemon Chicken with Feta Sauce and Kalamata Olives, Haricot Verts, and Pasta with Cheddar Sauce.
And, yes, you can do this too. Here’s what to remember:
  • Make three choices. That’s all it takes. Doesn’t matter what’s frozen or what’s raw.
  • Start cooking the thing that will take the longest. Here’s a quick priority list: frozen meat, raw root veggie or grain (like rice), box mix of something (like rice-a-roni). Well, that’s actually it. Fresh and frozen veggies take just a few minutes in the microwave.
  • For frozen meat, in the oven, add about 15 minutes per pound of frozen meat. In the skillet, remember that your fingers are your best judge, not a timer. Yes, I have just advocated poking your tender finger near a very hot skillet and testing the resiliency and elasticity of your meat–chicken, pork, beef, whatever.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus: for 3 oz of chicken (3 pts), 2T feta sauce (2 pts), 1t sliced olives (1 pt), 1/2 cup or 4 oz Bob Evans mac and cheese (6 pts), and as many green beans as you want = 12 points

Sorry, as happens with making a meal out of nothing, it’s done quickly and on the fly, with no thought to taking pictures at different stages.