COOKING ADVENTURE #81: Chicken Parmesan Baked Pasta
You’re probably not going to believe me when I say this but…it actually looks better than it tastes. To most of you, this just crushed some kind of pasta food-baby you were hoping to nurture in the future and I apologize for that. I should also add that I didn’t exactly follow the directions to the letter. I have a feeling though (and this is just my opinion) that this recipe would have turned out badly even if I had followed them. It’s one of those recipes that you desperately don’t want to mess up because it looks so scrumptious…and also because you’re making so damn much of it. End result: I have a ton of this stuff and I can barely force it past my lips half the time. Still probably have enough for two meals in my fridge. Urgh…
So, this month I’m working on a major limited budget. So I began browsing Pinterest, my internet cookbook, for recipes that would last me for several days at a time. I have a few former Cooking Adventures that I stand by as great night after night meals such as Chicken Pot Pie, my co-worker, Paul’s, amazing chile, my mom’s excellent Chicken Divan, and the well-loved Victoria Chicken Salad. But then I came across this delicious-looking casserole type recipe while going through some of my old pins and decided that it begged to be tried. After all, how could I screw up chicken and pasta? Short answer? I can. I have.
It doesn’t help that I decided to start making this recipe at 9 o’clock at night. Granted, I’d had a pretty busy morning listing things on ebay, then spent the entire afternoon watching American Horror Story: Asylum. Talk about not getting anything done. I then decided that I should do this now before I ended up behind schedule…which happened anyway. You have to give me credit for at least doing it in my half-asleep mental state that evening.
It occurred to me pretty early on that I’d missed picking up several of the ingredients at the grocery store, namely the garlic bulb. The recipe called for 6 garlic cloves. That’s a crap load of garlic. Nothing like the Laab recipe that a friend made years ago that used close to 50! But still…lots of garlic that I couldn’t even hope to substitute with my little tiny spice jars. But I tried. I pulled my garlic/spice mix from the shelf and sprinkled a ton of it into a stainless steel pan on the stove with a tablespoon of olive oil. The directions then had me add 1/4 tsp. dried oregano, 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes, and a 1/4 tsp. kosher salt.
Disclaimer: I didn’t measure any of this. It was late for me. My brain was slowly self-destructing from watching that television show and sleep was edging further into my consciousness. Though, as I dashed and sprinkled spices into the pan, I was vaguely aware that it was a little strange to just be adding spices to olive oil when there was no meat in the pan. In fact, I kind of wondered why it didn’t have me starting off cooking the chicken in these spices. But I let it go, assuming that there was a reason.
These spices are only supposed to cook for a minute before you add your tomatoes. Now…here’s my biggest pet peeve of the entire recipe. When one goes to the grocery store in search of canned tomatoes, they inevitably encounter a great wall of them, prepared in almost every way that we can imagine, ie: diced, chopped, crushed, whole, peeled, etc. So, I was a little confused when the ingredients list asked me to picked up whole peeled tomatoes…in a can. I had just assumed we’d be doing something special with them and that was the reason we needed them. But, as I carefully perused the recipe, I discovered that wasn’t the case. In fact, the VERY FIRST thing the recipe tells me to do is to take these whole peeled tomatoes and throw them in the food processor to chop up.
I’m sorry? Come again? You want me to buy whole canned tomatoes just so I can dirty more dishes by chopping them up? Why not just buy canned diced tomatoes? After I’d thought about it for ten minutes and gotten nowhere other than thinking that I was going to suffer an aneurism or better yet exclaim this for all the world to hear, I took a spoon and angrily started cutting my tomatoes up in the pan. And I did it in the pan because if I hadn’t, the spices would have burned to the bottom of it. And just for added aggravation, the tomatoes exploded as soon as they were prodded in any way. Tomato guts all over my stove. Whoohoo…
Once I’d taken all of my anger out on the tomatoes and let them start cooking by themselves, I turned my attention to the next bit of the recipe that made no sense: the pasta. The recipe wanted me to add 12 oz. of it into the pan, uncooked, with the tomatoes, 2 cups of water, and some chicken broth. Talk about over doing it! I could barely fit everything into my pan on the stove. Now, I may not be the sharpest kitchen knife in the drawer, but if there is one thing I know, it is that it’s a little weird to be cooking pasta in with tomatoes and all of that liquid. To make it even more strange, the recipe told me to cook the pasta in all of that for close to 18 minutes! Way too long. But of course, I didn’t bother to stop myself from doing that and by the time the buzzer was going off, I had a pan of bubbling tomato juice and some very chewy, practically inedible pasta. Mneh.
But, oh, there’s more. Once the pasta had simmered itself into rubber, I was to add 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese to the pan and mix it in. Except that the only Parmesan that I have has been sitting in my fridge for a while…I don’t even know really how long and it’s the sprinkle kind. So, not really seeing any other options, I added as much of it as I could to the pasta plus some sprinkles of black pepper and then gradually stirred everything in. Now, to me, this step would signify the tail end of the cooking that needed to be done. However, the directions then tell you to throw the raw chicken in with the pasta and tomatoes…basically all of that stuff I just cooked for the last twenty minutes that already has the consistency of a dog’s chew toy. Raw chicken? I was smart here. I emptied out the pan into a baking dish, then placed my raw chicken in the saucepan and cooked it by itself for an allotted time.
And the chicken came out tasting bland. It would have been better if I’d cooked it back in the beginning when all of the spices had first gone into the pan. But, it was too late for that, and so I could only sigh and dump my cubed chicken into the unholy pasta mixture in the baking dish. And as if to add more injury to insult, the directions tell me to top everything off with a dose of mozzarella cheese (1 cup), as if to try and cover up the evidence. This went into the oven for ten minutes and came out looking better than it smelled. By then, it was almost eleven and I wasn’t in much of a mood to eat it. And so I have been force feeding it to myself for the last three days. Only one more day of it to go… Freedom is not far away now!
Next week, continuing with my theme for dishes to make without many ingredients, I’ll be attempting a “from scratch” recipe for white chocolate chip peppermint cookies! And perhaps I’ll even take a whack at a particularly delectable winter drink… Oh, the mysteries!