COOKING ADVENTURE # 89: Chicken Spinach Lasagna
This recipe. Oh my freaking word. It has taken me a week longer than usual to just have the right time to sit down and knock this recipe out. Between working crazily on Book 3, working on yet another writing project, work, presentations, birthday parties, and other what not, I wasn’t able to finally complete this one until last night. And, my dear folks, as I’m sure you’re more than likely aware, it didn’t quite come out like it should have due to three cardinal reasons: A.) Laziness, B.) Missing ingredients, and the all popular C.) Time constraints. I really tried my hardest to have everything assembled and to do it correctly. But let’s face it; when you’ve just gotten home after a long day at work, the last thing most of you want to do is slave over a kitchen stove, trying to assemble something that’s going to take another two hours before its done. I didn’t eat last night until close to 10. I basically looked like this. On the upside, I have a bunch of leftovers for the rest of the week. Pluses and minuses, folks. Pluses and minuses.
So as usual with most Cooking Adventures, I found myself in dire need to make something that was actually going to be edible and last me for several days. While I would like to start making some lighter, more colorful, and springy things, this winter from hell is just not letting go. Take this past weekend: Saturday was warm and beautiful and sunny. The next day? 35 degrees, freezing rain, ice, and all kinds of other crap. I didn’t want to go outside. Gross. And since I’ve been spending nearly all available time that I have cracking down on these book ideas, I haven’t spent very much time making food that is actually healthy. Hence the reason that I now feel sluggish and nasty.
Yet, the chicken and spinach lasagna recipe popped out at me while browsing Pinterest after my failed attempt at a pluot crostata (which would have worked if pluots were in the least bit easy to find). So, after returning home and settling in a little, I pulled out all of my ingredients, pots, pans, and general miscellaneous kitchen tools and set to the task at hand.
The first priority was to cook the chicken. Of course, you can’t just cook the chicken in a pan by itself. I read through the list of herbs, spices, and random bulb vegetables to add, the first being that dreadful enemy of mine, onion. As many long time readers will remember, I’ve had trouble with onions before in dishes. They are always so strong and usually, the directions tell me to add WAY TOO MANY onions than there should be. Unless I’m starting the evil onion empire over here, I don’t necessarily want that overpowering my food.
I took my santoku knife and cut half an onion up, slicing it into little cubes which I added to a pan with olive oil on the stove to brown. While that sizzled and worked its magic, I started on a garlic clove, which was slightly more pathetic. I managed to get garlic flakes all over the floor and covered my hands with sticky garlic juice before I added it in to the pan. After that I sprinkled salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in and let them cook.
Once I’d waited a while and they had browned, I turned my attention to the chicken. I have the terrible, terrible idiocy of never thawing my chicken before I go to use it. It comes straight out of the freezer and usually goes straight into the pan. Like I said, laziness abounds over here. Occasionally, I’ll run into that problem of being unable to get the liner paper off the back of the chicken breasts. Not only does it freeze itself to them but I think it somehow becomes one with the chicken, an even more devilish creation that takes twice as long to deal with. “Dealing with” it meant running it under hot water long enough for me to rip the liner from the chicken, and get frozen chicken flakes everywhere. But finally, I was able to get the chicken added to the pan, put the lid on it and let it cook for a while.
In the meantime, I had to prepare the two other parts of the recipe: the ricotta mixture and the spinach. The spinach was easy enough. I used a frozen block of it from the grocery store and just boiled it on the stove top. I realize that’s not the most romantic sounding way to prepare spinach but seriously? I’m not going to be that person to go to the grocery store and get organically grown spinach, all leafy and fluffy for the purpose of cooking it down to mush. If it’s pre-mush in a cube, it works just fine for me. Only as I was cooking the spinach did I start to find traces of little random brown leaves in it. I began tweezing at them fanatically, trying to remove every single one. I may be lax on my quality of spinach but I’ll be damned if puny brown spinach leaves make it into my Chicken Spinach Lasagna.
The last componant, the ricotta mixture was pretty easy to prepare…but nearly made me lose my appetite as well. I found my glass bowl and dumped 1 cup of ricotta cheese into it. To that I added an Italian mix of shredded cheese, one egg, and some parsley. I say “some” because I had no inclination to measure. I winged it. The Italian cheese mix was not in the original recipe. It said to just use mozzerella. This had that in it as well as provolone, asiago, and another three that I just didn’t care enough to pay attention to. It made the flavor a little stronger but it was okay in the end. I took a spoon and stirred everything together which, I must say, made it look absolutely horrible. Especially that egg yolk breaking and coloring everything yellow. Made you not want to eat it, right? Sorry. BUT IT LOOKED GROSS.
Once the spinach was cooked, I took a slotted spoon and added a big heaping pile of it to the ricotta, because that’s what it tells me to do. Personally, I would have left it separate and just layered it over the ricotta. But no. I add the spinach and watch as the whole mixture gets watery and…green.
There were steps that I skipped. Blah, blah, woof, woof. I don’t care. There was supposed to have been a white sauce to go along with this, something to go in between the layers. And while I’ll mention that my sink was already full of dishes in addition to the pile I’d just created, I wasn’t about to pull yet ANOTHER dish out and waste the next hour making the “special white sauce”. So, I grabbed my jar of Prego sauce from the fridge to use that instead. I also left out the artichokes in the original recipe because…yuck.
I then took a casserole dish out of the cabinet and prepared to begin the layering. To my sadness, I noticed that the “special white sauce” was supposed to form a thin layer on the bottom of the pan before laying down the first level of noodles. I grabbed the Prego and dumped a hefty amount in, sliding it around with a spoon until the bottom was fully covered. Then, I put down my special pre-boiled lasagna noodles. I found them at the grocery store. So much easier just to skip that one obnoxious step.
Next, I took the ricotta spinach nightmare and placed heaping spoonfuls of that onto the noodles, spreading them around. Then came the chicken, which I shredded shortly after it had cooked with my fingers. In hindsight, it’s probably better to just use a fork and knife…so you don’t burn your fingers. But I was impatient, my stomach was howling louder than a hungry werewolf, and I just wanted to get the recipe done so that I could do some writing (I ended up watching The Avengers instead. Again. Because it’s one of the best movies ever. ‘Nuff said.) After I had the chicken layer down, I went to add another tomato sauce layer and discovered much to my disappointment that I’d used way too much on the bottom and now didn’t have enough to put in the middle. So I waved the jar back and forth, trying to fling as much of the left over sauce as I could onto the lasagna. The result was rather sad. Because it got everywhere else.
I resumed my layering with the noodles, ricotta/spinach, and chicken. On top, I placed a hefty dose of the Italian cheese mixture and then tossed the casserole dish into the oven to bake on 375 for the next 45 minutes. The apartment was smelling like Italian wonderment in little time at all. And when dinner finally came out of the oven, I plowed into a square of it immediately, my stomach somewhere on the border between Hungry, Hungry caterpillar and ravenous zombie. A ravenous zombie caterpillar. You heard it here first.
And so, I fell in love with the wonderful Chicken Spinach Lasagna. It wasn’t entirely what I was expecting and I’m sure it would have tasted absolutely magical with that “special white sauce” instead of Prego. But I’m not going to beat myself up for not doing it. I’d rather not have to go to sleep after midnight just because of cooking. (Even though I ended up staying up til 1:30 anyway. Meh.)
Next week on Cooking Adventures, look forward to a healthy spring recipe for an amazing Apple and Poppy Seed Coleslaw! Very, very excited about this one.