Chicken Pasta Bake

Meal prep madness continues once again. I’m sure you’ve probably noticed that I cook a lot of pasta and have absolutely no regrets. I’m all for carbs and I do eat them in moderation even if it might not seem like I do.

What I love about pasta for meal prep is its ability to freeze. For people who want to prep but are relatively time poor or just lazy, something you can bake and cut into even portions works a treat. Alas, pasta bake is a staple meal for me.

I parked the tinned tuna for the time being and moved onto chicken. My second favourite cooking technique (after baking) is poaching! Poached chicken is a no fail technique for perfectly juicy chicken. I elevated this dish by poaching my chicken in chicken stock! If you do have the time, I would recommend making your own chicken stock (I will put a recipe below in case you’re interested***). Poaching in water will still render you with perfectly juicy chicken so don’t fret if you don’t want to use stock.

So pasta, chicken… what else? This time around I threw in some bacon, spinach and mushrooms to balance out the dish. Then comes the sauce that combines this altogether. My go to for pasta bakes is bechamel. So if this is all sounding like it will tantalise your taste buds, here is the recipe below.

Chicken Pasta Bake (serves 4)

What you’re going to need 

2 heaped cups of Fusilli pasta (I have used San Remo)

1 small chicken breast (~150-200 grams)

2 slices short cut bacon, thinly sliced

3 small cup mushrooms, thinly sliced

handful spinach, thinly sliced

cheddar cheese, grated for topping

Bechamel

2 tablespoons margarine

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup milk

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
  2. In a large saucepan, bring the chicken stock (or water) to a simmer. Place the chicken breast in and ensure it is fully submerged. Cook for 25 minutes
  3. Whilst the chicken is cooking, cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Set aside once cooked.
  4. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from the liquid and set to cool slightly on a clean chopping board. Once safe to touch, use a fork to shred the breast meat. Set aside.
  5. For the bechamel, in a small non stick saucepan, melt the margarine on a medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until flour has dissolved. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk until well combined. Add back to the heat and whisk until mixture has thickened.
  6. Using the large saucepan used for the chicken (rinse first), add all the ingredients except for the cheddar cheese. Mix well until all ingredients are covered in the sauce.
  7. In a large baking dish, pour the mixture and spread evenly. Top with grated cheese. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until cheese has melted and darkened (note that the bacon, spinach and mushrooms go into the mixture raw and require cooking whilst in the oven).
  8. Remove from the oven and either serve immediately or allow to cool completely before packaging up for the freezer.

Chicken Pasta Bake


*** Basic chicken stock recipe

What you’re going to need

1/2 kilo chicken wings/chicken drumsticks/cheap cut chicken with bones

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 carrot roughly chopped

3 stalks celery, roughly chopped

12 black peppercorns

salt to season

Method

  1. In a large pot, heat up some olive oil on a medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 2-3 minutes until browned.
  2. Add all the other ingredients as well as ~2 litres of water (enough to cover the ingredients but not too much excess as this will dull down the flavour).
  3. Place on a lid then set and forget! (well not completely but for a while). This gets better with time so give yourself a couple of hours minimum to develop a strong flavour!

Chicken stock is freezer friendly so save your leftovers!

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Spinach and Feta Pasta Shells

Another weekend, another opportunity to stock my freezer with prepared meals for work lunches! Yes there is more to my life than meal prep I promise but I have always found cooking quite therapeutic so it’s always a breeze for me to prepare my own food for work and not worry about foraging every lunch time!

I find at home that we end up with bits and pieces leftover from where we have tried new recipes or have just decided to experiment with different ingredients. As a result, we at my household tend to end up with random portions of ingredients which often get neglected or unfortunately thrown out if they’re there for long enough…

Alas, leftover meal prep is my favourite. Ideally with this approach, you only need to purchase maybe one or two ingredients to make a complete dish. In this case, I only bought some basil as it is a seasonal herb and our current garden supply has died off. Our lovely next door neighbour kindly donated some of her homegrown spinach which I put to use straight away. An ingredient that goes perfectly with spinach, feta! Feta is basically a staple in my house. With these and a couple of other bits and pieces, we have a dish!

Let’s get into it!

Spinach and Feta Pasta Shells (serves 2)

What you’re going to need

12 giant pasta shells

1 bunch spinach, stems removed

150 g feta

1/4 cup walnuts

6 basil leaves

cheddar cheese, grated for topping

salt and pepper to season

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
  2. Cook pasta shells as per packet instructions until al dente.
  3. In a pulse blender/food processer, add the spinach, feta, walnuts, basil, salt and pepper. Blitz until well combined and a chunky paste is formed.
  4. Have a medium sized baking dish ready. Carefully hold a pasta shell (as they are still very hot) and place a spoonful of mixture inside. Place inside the baking dish. Continue until all shells and mixture have been used. Once all in, place as much or as little grated cheddar on top as you like.
  5. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until cheese on top has melted and darkened.
  6. Serve immediately or allow to cool completely and then package up in the freezer.

Spinach and Feta Pasta Shells

 

 

Zucchini and Feta Slice

I’ve been a bit slack with meal prepping lately. I’m working down at Barangaroo, Sydney at the moment and have just been overwhelmed with all the amazing food options there! (definitely a mark up from other areas of the CBD though). Anyway, have decided to get myself back on track and have dedicated this weekend to meal prepping my heart out.

I did some grocery shopping the other night and managed to grab a bunch of veggies that were super cheap! This included zucchini.

Zucchini is quite versatile and I love the taste of it. I wanted something that I could easily portion and freeze and so zucchini slice was the idea of the moment. My mum used to make this all the time in the past so I have adapted her recipe to suit what we had available in the fridge.

Zucchini and Feta Slice

What you’re going to need

6 eggs

1 cup self raising flour, sifted

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium zucchinis, grated

50 g feta

2 slices ham

salt and pepper to season

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
  2. In a large bowl, add the eggs and sifted flour and whisk until well combined. Add all other ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon.
  3. In a greased square baking dish, pour the mixture and gently shake the dish to make the top even.
  4. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean from the centre.

And that’s it! Easy peasy.

Zucchini Slice

 

 

 

Prawn Linguine

The Sunday night dinner cooking slot at my house is all mine. I have free rein to make whatever I want. I am using it as an opportunity to practice cooking meat and seafood since I don’t normally cook meat/seafood based dishes for a single portion (tinned tuna does not count).

Having an abundance of pasta at home at the moment (Thank you San Remo) , I thought it would be good to whip up one of my favourite dishes, Prawn Linguine! A key component of this dish and one of my new cooking skills that I have taught myself is the prawn oil. This became the sauce of the dish and it is incredible how much flavour you can infuse into plain olive oil.

Since a lot of my friends are in Europe at the moment and I am having mega nostalgia from my trips in the past, I went with a Mediterranean theme for the complementary ingredients.

So let’s hop to it. Here is the recipe for you to give it a go!

Prawn Linguine (serves 4)

What you’re going to need

Pasta

250g Linguine (the one I used can be found here )

1/2 kilo green prawns, peeled and deveined (save the shells)

handful cherry tomatoes

handful baby spinach

1 tablespoon baby capers

Prawn Oil

Prawn shells and tails saved from the 1/2 kilo prawns

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 brown onion, roughly chopped (big chunks)

1 clove garlic, crushed with knife blade and not peeled

pinch salt

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celcius. In a small baking tray, add the cherry tomatoes with a light drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt. Pop in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
  2. Fill a large saucepan with water and add a generous pinch of salt. Bring up to the boil.
  3. Whilst the tomatoes are baking and pasta water is heating, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan on a medium heat. Add the onion, salt and prawn heads and shells. Cook until aromatic (approximately 3 minutes). Once shells have turned orange, add the remaining olive oil and reduce to a low heat. Cook on low for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Cook pasta in boiling water until just al dente. Whilst waiting for the pasta to cook, strain the prawn oil in a jug and discard the solid bits. Set aside.
  5. With 2 minutes left for your pasta to cook (“just al dente”), heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in a fry pan. Once hot, cook the prawns for 1 minute per side. Reduce to a very low heat and add the strained pasta, tomatoes, spinach and prawn oil to the pan. Mix well and ensure the prawn oil coats all the ingredients. Add the capers at the last moment before serving. Serve immediately.

Prawn Linguine

 

 

Mum’s Lasagne

Sunday evening, weekend is winding down and it is a bit cold today as well. This setting just calls for mood food i.e. Mum’s lasagne. I have recently started cooking family dinner on Sunday nights and this week I figured i’d make my first lasagne (with continual advice from Mum of course). Similar to me, my mother also doesn’t really measure anything when she is cooking so we had a series of “blobs” and “handfuls” which I have deciphered into actual measurements so that you can try out the recipe for yoursef!

There are four fundamental lasagne layers with two requiring some preparation before assembly. The layers are the lasagne sheets (store bought in a box and will cook in the oven), the meat mixture, homemade bechamel and then of course cheese! What seems like a labourious endeavour to get over the line for dinner, it is so simple! So for those who are cooking for a few or wanting to meal prep (recipe is freezer friendly), have a go at this!

Mum’s Lasagne

What you’re going to need

Packet lasagne sheets (Barilla have a 20 pack that are pre cooked and dried)

1 cup grated tasty cheese

Meat mixture

500 g pork mince (or any mince of your choice)

400 g Tomato Passata

1/2 medium sized onion, diced finely

1 small carrot, diced finely

1 clove garlic, grated with Microplane/crushed

4 small cup mushrooms, sliced thinly

10 basil leaves

salt and pepper to season

1 tablespoon olive oil for frying

Bechamel

1/4 cup butter/margarine

2 tablespoons plain flour

150 ml milk

1/4 cup grated tasty cheese

Method

  1. In a large frying pan, heat up the olive oil on a medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and garlic and cook until aromatic. Turn up the heat and add the mince. Chop the mince with your spatula until broken up into small pieces and browned.
  2. Once meat has been browned, turn the heat down to a low-medium heat and add the Passata and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and stir until well combined. Leave to simmer on a low heat.
  3. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
  4. In a small non stick saucepan, melt the butter on a medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until flour has dissolved. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk until well combined. Add back to the heat and whisk until mixture has thickened. Set aside off the heat until ready to assemble the lasagne!
  5. In a large baking dish (I used a square one), line the base with some of the lasagne sheets. Add half of the meat mixture on top and spread evenly. Add a thin layer of bechamel on top of the meat. Place lasagne sheets on top of the bechamel and repeat (you will end up with three lasagne sheet layers, two meat layers, two bechamel).
  6. Once all layers are assembled, cover the top layer of lasagne sheets with the grated tasty cheese.
  7. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes (covered with foil) and then the last 20 minutes uncovered to get colour on your cheesy top layer.
  8. Serve hot!

Barilla Cooking Class

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Northern Italian Winter pasta cooking class at Casa Barilla in Annandale, NSW. It was my first ever Italian cooking class and I was super excited. I entered the room and was warmly welcomed by all the Barilla staff and was served an aperitif. Then, it was time to meet the chef. Executive Chef Andrea Tranchero hosts all of the cooking classes at Casa Barilla and has done demonstrations at multiple food festivals and venues including the recent Good Food and Wine Festival in Sydney.

The class size was intimate giving a warm communal feel rather than a large industrial style class. We watched the chef create the two dishes we were to prepare ourselves later today and we were so amazed. The room smelled amazing and he made dishes that might seem complicated to the eye but are quite easy for anyone to prepare at home.

Andrea Tranchero plating up both courses.

So then it was our turn. First course was Cuttlefish Casserole in Red Wine and Garlic Sauce with Soft Polenta. I haven’t really cooked with a lot of seafood (tinned tuna does NOT count) but I love to eat it . So first up was preparing the cuttlefish. The cuttlefish was purchased from the fish markets earlier in the morning and was already cleaned (perfect). We pan fried it with some fresh garlic and the Barilla red wine and garlic sauce. Next step, the polenta. I really enjoy polenta but struggle to get it right. Thankfully, there is a pre prepared polenta that only takes 5 minutes to cook on the stove top! To finish it off, a mix through of some marscapone.

Progress shots from Course 1 and plate up

Second course was Three Cheese Tortellini with Pumpkin, Crispy Guanciale and Sage. I had never really thought to eat puree with pasta but it just works SO well. Good way to get in extra veggies as well. So first we started with the pumpkin and leek puree. Really simple ingredients that complement each other perfectly. With the addition of freshly made chicken stock courtesy of Andrea, the puree was smooth and flavoursome. Next up was the sage butter sauce. We melted some butter in the pan until it was golden brown before adding freshly chopped sage. Once the tortellini was cooked, we added them into the butter with a generous serving of parmesan cheese. Once well combined, it was time for plating. Puree. Tortellini. Crispy Guanciale (similar to prosciutto and was fried in olive oil to get it extra crispy). Finished off with a drizzle of olive oil!

Progress shots from Course 2 and plate up

Each course was paired with beautiful Italian wine. After devouring our two courses that we freshly prepared, we had some Pure Gelato mini ice cream cones for dessert. Yum!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this cooking experience. Cooking classes give you a chance to learn a new skill, refine old ones and better yet, try out some flavour combinations you may not have even thought of! Would highly recommend you give one a go!


If you are interested in participating in one of Barilla Australia’s cooking classes, follow the link provided here – Barilla Pasta Cooking Class 

Click the links below for more info on Barilla Australia and Andrea Tranchero

@barillaaus

@andreatrancherochef

 

 

Aquafaba Chocolate Mousse

So aquafaba (chickpea water) desserts have been all over my Instagram and Facebook feed for a little while now. Since I always have a tin of chickpeas in my pantry, I figured I’d give this a go. I was definitely a bit of a sceptic at first that’s for sure. However as I began to whip the aquafaba like I would eggs, it was coming together exactly as it should. Weird huh? I don’t have an intolerance to eggs so this was a curiosity challenge more than anything. With melted chocolate folded through, these turned out to be quite a tasty afternoon dessert.

This recipe definitely gives you the light and airy feel of a mousse with a subtle chocolate flavour. If you are looking to be more nifty with your food leftovers and are keen for an experiment, I reckon you should try this out. Or, if you happen to have an egg allergy or are a vegan well then this is perfect!

Aquafaba Chocolate Mousse

What you’re going to need

1 tin chickpeas, draining the liquid into a medium sized bowl (save chickpeas for Hummus )

1 block 70% dark chocolate (100g if using Lindt)

2-3 tablespoons castor sugar (adjust to taste)

Method

  1. Using a hand mixer, beat the aquafaba and sugar until stiff peaks form (ideally you can lift the mixer out of the bowl and you will have mixture all over the blades). This will take at least 10-15 minutes.
  2. Melt chocolate using your preferred method. (I like the bowl over water approach on the stove top. It’s quick and works every time).
  3. Once completely melted, pour into the aerated aquafaba and fold through with a spatula. Keep folding until all mixture is even.
  4. Spoon mixture into small ramekins.
  5. Leave to set in the fridge for 4 hours. Serve fresh out of the fridge with grated chocolate on top.

 

Chocolate Mousse