Easy Cheesy Baked Ranch Chicken

My husband’s favorite food is Ranch Dressing.  OK, maybe Indian curries and vanilla cupcakes are up there too, but Ranch is pretty high on the list.  At our house, it’s not so much a salad dressing, but more of a mandatory all-purpose condiment.  When we got married, I was always in the kitchen trying to find new recipes that he would love (I had a lot more time then).  Somewhere along the way, I found a couple recipes for baked chicken that was dipped in Ranch dressing.  Truthfully, I thought I would end up eating a grilled cheese the night I made it.  Chicken covered in Ranch dressing did not sound appetizing.  But I actually ended up fighting with him for the last piece!  The Ranch flavor was not overwhelming, but it helped keep the chicken super moist and gave it incredible flavor.

After I made it once, it was established as part of our regular weeknight rotation.  It’s super easy, I always have the ingredients on hand, and it makes everyone happy.  You can’t ask for much for than that.

Start by preheating the oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  You don’t have to use parchment paper, but I love it because it makes clean up super simple.

In a shallow bowl, combine the dressing and the flour.  Add just enough flour to thicken the dressing, but not enough to make a paste.  Dip the chicken tenderloins in the dressing mix and place on the lined baking sheet.  The goal is to have a batter that will adhere to the chicken and not run off everywhere while cooking.  You can see in this picture that it’s doing just that, coating the chicken and not just dripping off.

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Spread them out relatively evenly on a baking sheet.  I had one too many pieces for my little sheet and had to move mine around, hence the smeared dressing all over the parchment. 🙂  They can be close but ideally not touching.

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Sprinkle chicken with shredded cheddar and grated Parmesan.  You can add as much cheese as you would like.

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Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.  If you’re worried about whether or not your chicken is done, you can check with a meat thermometer (should be 165º) or just cut a slit in the middle of thickest piece.  It should be all white with no pink.  Since I use the small chicken tenderloins, mine cooks in about 20 minutes.  But if you use chicken breast halves or full breasts, your cooking time will be longer.

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Just look at that golden cheesy crust…. Mmmmm….

Serve with your favorite sides or try one of ours, like Baked Brussels Sprouts**FIX**,  Southwestern Mango Quinoa Salad**FIX**, or (my personal favorite) Roasted Smashed Potatoes.

Easy Cheesy Baked Ranch Chicken

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20-30 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins
1 cup Ranch dressing
1-2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Step 2: In a shallow bowl, combine dressing and enough flour to thicken.

Step 3:  Dip the chicken in the dressing mix to completely coat and arrange, evenly spaced, on lined baking sheet.

Step 4: Sprinkle cheeses over chicken and bake 20-30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

Superbowl Sunday!

For us, Superbowl Sunday is almost a holiday.  You get to watch football (and you’d better get your fill since it’s the last football for almost 8 months) and it’s a great excuse to eat some tasty food and drink beer.  Even for those who don’t like football, you’ll hopefully get to see some amusing commercials and enjoy the halftime show while enjoying good eats with friends.

With the Superbowl just one week away, it’s time to start planning your menu.  For us, Superbowl Sunday is the day the appetizer/finger food reigns!  It’s great to have a spread that people can graze on throughout the game and doesn’t require silverware or plates.  If you’re looking for perfect gameday food, check out some of our recipes…

SW Bean Dip

Southwestern Bean Dip – This is an incredible and unique dip that is sure to be gobbled up by everyone.  Plus, it comes together in a matter of minutes! **FIX**

Garden Fresh Salsa

Fresh Garden Salsa – If you want to go a more traditional dip route, salsa’s a sure bet.  Homemade salsa definitely outshines the stuff in the jar and can be quite easy to make, just check out our recipe.  **FIX**

Baked Sausage Balls

Sausage Balls – These tailgate staples are a terrific game day treat!  They’re the perfect pop-in-your mouth size and are just plain yummy.  If you happen to have any leftovers, they’re great for breakfast the next day…

Salmon Puffs

Smoked Salmon Puffs – Smoked salmon is commonplace at potluck-style gatherings in Alaska.  This particular form is one of my favorite ways to eat smoked salmon.  Season smoked salmon and mix it with some cream cheese then stuff it in mini puffs… you’ve got heavenly bites.  These will disappear very quickly so make sure you grab one when the game starts!

Tartlets

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tartlets – If you’re feeling a little fancy on gameday, give these little beauties a whirl.  These tomato-basil-goat cheese tarts in puff pastry shells are incredibly savory.  They’re not difficult to make and are a sure crowd-pleaser.  Take one bite and you’ll understand why!

I’ll be making several of these dishes next Sunday plus some Maple Candied Bacon and Chocolate Chip Cookies and maybe some Chocolate-Peanut Butter Bars and Mac and Cheese Bites made using our World’s Best Mac and Cheese recipe.  Can’t wait… YUM!!

Lasagna Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash makes a wonderful healthy dinner.  It’s great for increasing your vegetable consumption or, if you’re trying to cut back on your carbs, it functions as a pasta substitute.  I’m not going to sit here and tell you that spaghetti squash is exactly like spaghetti – it’s not.  The squash’s texture is different, having a slight crunch, and it has a subtle sweetness.  While it’s not spaghetti, spaghetti squash is very tasty with tomato sauce – it’s how I prefer to eat it!

Lasagna Spaghetti Squash

One day when I was making my usual spaghetti squash with pasta sauce, I was thinking about variations of spaghetti that I enjoy.  Sometimes when I have extra ricotta in the fridge after making another dish (such as our Spinach Ricotta Gnudi, Lasagna Soup, Four Cheese White Pizza, or Sausage and Ricotta Pizza), I like to toss a dollop in with my spaghetti marinara to create a cheesy tomato sauce.  I did the same with my spaghetti squash that evening and it was delicious!  So I decided the next time I had spaghetti squash I would try including the other components of lasagna, and this dish was born.

My Lasagna Spaghetti Squash turned out to be a big success!  It’s now my absolute favorite way to eat spaghetti squash, and my boyfriend loves it too.  You’ll notice in this recipe I don’t give many measurements – I don’t actually measure things when I make it.  So you can tailor it to your taste by controlling the amount of ingredients you add.  Or throw in some of your favorite lasagna components that I haven’t included – I love cheese lasagna but maybe you’re a fan of spinach lasagna or eggplant lasagna.  I’ve provided the canvas so you can create your own unique work of spaghetti squash art.  Enjoy!

Lasagna Spaghetti Squash

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

1 small Spaghetti Squash
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper
Tomato Sauce
Ricotta Cheese
Parmesan Cheese (optional)
handful chopped Fresh Herbs (optional)
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese

1.  Halve your spaghetti squash lengthwise (This is the hardest part of the recipe – you will need a sharp knife and some patience.  Be careful not to cut yourself!).  Using a large spoon, scrape out the inside of the squash to remove all the seeds – this should remind you of cleaning out a pumpkin to make a jack-o-lantern.  Drizzle each half with olive oil and use a brush to spread it over the surface.  Then season generously with salt and pepper.

Oil and Season Squash

2.  Place the squash cut side-down on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 450° F for 40 minutes.  It should be browning around the edges.  Allow the squash to cool 5-10 minutes before handling (it cools quicker if you flip it over).

3.  Once the squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the squash from one half into a bowl.  The squash should come apart in thin, spaghetti-like strands – this is where the squash gets its name.

4.  Add some tomato sauce (you can use your favorite jarred pasta sauce or make your own using our recipe for Tomato Sauce) and a dollop of ricotta to the bowl and mix thoroughly.  I don’t give you specific measurements for sauce or ricotta to allow you to fix the recipe to your own taste – you can go super cheesy if that’s what you like or opt for a healthier version with less cheese.  If you want to use parmesan cheese, add it now and stir it into the squash.

Squash Strands in Cheesy Tomato Sauce

5.  Take your squash in cheesy tomato sauce and put it back into its shell.  If you’re using fresh herbs, sprinkle it over the squash halves.  I like to use basil, but parsley would also work well.  Then tear the mozzarella into thin clumps and spread it over the surface of the squash.

Top with Mozzarella

6.  Broil the squash for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling and begins to brown.  Make sure you keep your eye on it so it doesn’t burn!

Now you’re ready to enjoy some scrumptious spaghetti squash!  You can serve it in the shell and eat right out of it like a bowl.  I find this meal to be very filling on its own so I don’t generally have any sort of side dish with it.  If you don’t think half a squash will be enough food for you, check out our Veggies and Sides or Breads for accompaniment ideas.

Lasagna Spaghetti Squash

Crock Pot Pulled Pork

Unfortunately, we don’t currently own a smoker, so making traditional pulled pork is a little difficult. But with a Crock Pot and a little love, we can still accomplish that tender, juicy result generally achieved by an all-day smoke.  (Pictured Below: Pulled Pork on a cornbread pancake, topped with coleslaw, then smothered in BBQ sauce, aka the Redneck Taco)

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Crock Pot Pulled Pork is super simple and only has 5 ingredients: pork, onion, garlic, Wham’s, and Hickory Smoked Sea Salt. Wham’s is an all-purpose BBQ rub that I have only ever seen in Piggly Wiggly and Star Market here in Alabama. It’s full name is Willingham’s World Champion Wham Seasoning and I’m sorry to say I have no idea if they sell it anywhere else. In the event you can’t find this little jar of magic, you can use your favorite rub instead. I buy the Hickory Smoked Sea Salt at Williams Sonoma. I don’t know if anyone else makes an equivalent, but let me tell you, this stuff is worth it’s weight in gold. It gives any dish a delightfully smoky flavor, worlds above and beyond liquid smoke, which can taste a little… off… sometimes.

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I make this pretty frequently because it’s easy, tasty, and it makes a lot, which means leftovers. A warm and yummy pulled pork sandwich, deliciously buttery stuffed baked potato, piled on a crazy awesome redneck taco, or crispy fresh pulled pork salad – all equally tantalizing options. However you choose to enjoy this, I assure you, it will be scrumptious!

Peel and cut 1 large or 2 medium onions into 6th’s or 8th’s (wedges) and toss into the bottom of your slow cooker. Now peel 4-6 cloves of garlic, cut in half and toss in with the onions. Try to evenly disperse the veggies on the bottom; you want to create a little veggie rack for your pork to sit on. If the amount of onion called for isn’t enough, feel free to add another. I use a 2-3 pound roast so 2 usually does it for me, but for a large or longer roast, you might need the extra.

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You can use any type of pork roast you’d like; I usually buy the giant, untrimmed pork loin from Sam’s or Costco and cut it down myself. It’s not difficult to do, it’s way more cost effective, and you can cut it down into whatever size roast or chops you need. However you buy your pork, I would definitely go with boneless for this recipe. It will cook faster than pork with the bone-on. Also, I usually trim most of the fat off the bottom of the roast. Since you’re covering this roast halfway up with water, you don’t need the fat for moisture or tenderizing. Rinse the pork off and pat dry with paper towels.

Lay your pork on the cutting board that you just chopped the veggies on so the excess seasoning doesn’t get all over your counter. You want to generously sprinkle on the BBQ seasoning.  I’m sorry this picture is a little blurry, but I wanted you to see how much Wham’s I start with, adding more if this doesn’t cover the roast.

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You’re going for a nice, even coverage on all sides of the meat. When you open the jar of Hickory Smoked Sea Salt, that smokey scent will pop out to say hello. It can be too strong if you use too much of it, so a light sprinkling will do. Plus, chances are the BBQ seasoning already contains salt, so you don’t want to make your pork too salty. And don’t just sprinkle on the seasoning, really massage it into the meat – give little piggy the royal treatment!  Now, all you do is set your seasoned roast on the veggies in the slow cooker, and fill with water, to about halfway up the sides of the roast.  It’s OK that the onions not directly under the roast are swimming.

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You can cook for 4-5 hours on high heat if you need it done faster, but low and slow is the way to go. At least 7-8 hours on low for a 2-3 pound roast. When I made this for my daughter’s first birthday (I made cute little pulled pork sliders!), I put it in the crockpot late the night before, and let it cook all night and into the morning. If your slow cooker has a “warm” setting, it should automatically come on after your timer goes off. This is super handy in case you get home late from work, or can’t get to it first thing in the morning.  And since you’ve added water, it won’t dry out.  This is what it looks like after an 8 hour bath in the Crock Pot.

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When it’s done, it should fall apart when you stick a fork in it and twist. It’s easiest to get the pork out of Slow Cooker using tongs. Transfer it to a bowl and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.  This resting time will allow the meat to reabsorb it’s juices, hopefully keeping it from drying out.  Use 2 forks or your fingers to shred.

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Save a little of the cooking liquid in case the pork isn’t as moist as you’d like or dries out a little during shredding.  And now, you can serve it anyway you like! I like making pulled pork sandwiches, redneck tacos, or stuffed baked potatoes the first night, and then using the leftovers to top a yummy salad for lunch the next day.

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Crock Pot Pulled Pork

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 8-9 hours

Ingredients:
2-3 pound pork sirloin roast
2 medium onions
5-6 cloves garlic, crushed and cut in half
Wham’s, or other BBQ rub
Hickory Smoked Sea Salt

Step 1: Peel the garlic and cut each into 2 or 3 pieces. Peel the onions and cut into 6th’s or 8th’s (wedges). Spread them out on the bottom of your Crock Pot.

Step 2: Rinse your meat in cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle your BBQ seasoning very generously on the pork. Add a little of the hickory smoked sea salt.  Then, using your fingers, massage your seasonings into the meat. Work it into every side evenly.

Step 3: Place your seasoned meat on top of the bed of onions and garlic. Add water to the Crock Pot until it comes about halfway up the sides of the meat.

Step 4: Set your Crock Pot on Low for 8 to 9 hours.

Step 5: When the pork is fully cooked, remove from Crock Pot with tongs and put in a bowl. Let rest for 5-10 minutes, then shred using two forks or your fingers. It should fall apart.

Step 6: Serve anyway you like! On a salad, baked potato, or try our homemade buns!

Homemade Sloppy Joes

If you’ve never made Homemade Sloppy Joe’s before, you’re missing out!  Unlike the canned sauce or dry seasoning packet, they are loaded with fresh flavor that both kids and adults can appreciate.  Using the fresh veggies and a high quality tomato paste make all the difference.  And on top of being both yummy and crowd pleasing, they couldn’t be easier.  If you can brown meat and chop an onion, this recipe is in the bag!

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As you may already know, Rachel Ray is a dear, dear friend of mine.  (No, I’ve never met her… but we’re close… she’s my weeknight go-to.)  I own several of her cookbooks and while they may not be the fanciest on the shelf, they are certainly the most stained from use.  This quick and delish dish is another winner from the queen of 30 minute meals.  You can serve these up with Deviled Potato Salad (another RR recipe, coming soon), french fries, or just plain ole’ potato chips.  To take them up a notch, try our Homemade Hamburger Buns.  They really are so much better than store bought – but no one is judging you for picking up a bag’o’buns.  I usually do!

To start, finely dice a medium onion and a red bell pepper, set aside.  Note: I don’t always keep bell peppers, but I do usually have a bag of small, sweet peppers.  They are great for salads, omelettes, and a myriad of other things.  Plus, they’re usually cheaper than bell peppers.  I have subbed 3-4 of these little ones for the big bell several times, and they are just as delicious.  Turn your burner to medium-high and add about a tablespoon of oil (once around the pan) and your ground beef to a large frying pan.

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Break up the meat with your spatula.  In a small dish, combine the brown sugar and steak seasoning, then toss it in the pan.  Tip: Montreal Steak Seasoning is more or less coarsely ground salt and pepper, with a little garlic and onion powder.  If I’m ever out, I just use a mix of those spices.

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Cook until meat is completely browned, then add in the onion, pepper, Worcestershire, and red wine vinegar.  Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes.  You can’t really tell in the picture below, but the meat will look dark and almost sticky from the brown sugar.

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Add the tomato sauce and paste (I buy the ultra concentrated kind, and I’m usually pretty generous with it) and stir to combine.

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Reduce the heat a little more so your sauce is just simmering, and cook another 5 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken.  You can decide here how thick you want your sauce; just keep it simmering until you’re happy.

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Serve on warm buns with toppings of your choice.  I like mine plain, my hubby adds mayo, and my mom likes sliced tomatoes – so however you want ’em!  These also make super fun sliders for a birthday or football party!

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Homemade Sloppy Joes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 6-8, depending on how big you make your sandwiches

Ingredients

1 1/4 pounds ground beef or sirloin
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon Montreal Steak Seasoning (or like seasoning mix)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
Buns, for serving (try our homemade buns)
Toppings, as desired

Step 1:  Pour oil into large pan and heat over medium high.  Add meat and begin to break up with spatula.

Step 2: In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and seasoning.  Add to the pan and cook until meat is completely brown and cooked through.

Step 3:  Reduce heat to medium and add the onion, pepper, vinegar, and Worcestershire.  Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 4:  Add tomato sauce and tomato paste and stir to combine.  Reduce heat so that sauce is just simmering, and cook about 5 minutes more, or until sauce has thickened and reached desired consistency.

Step 5:  Serve on warm buns with toppings of your choice.  Grab extra napkins!

Asian-Glazed Brussels Sprouts

Earlier this year, thanks to Amanda’s Baked Brussels Sprouts **FIX**recipe, I discovered that Brussels sprouts are not the dreaded vegetable that I believed them to be.  They are in fact very tasty and satisfying, especially when they’re roasted.  Plus, they’re super healthy and packed with fiber and protein to help you stay full.  Now I happily work them in to my vegetable rotation. Asian-Glazed Sprouts Once I started eating Brussels sprouts regularly, I wanted to add a little variety to my sprout dishes.  I love how easy our Baked Brussels Sprouts **FIX**are, so I wanted a simple alteration to that recipe.   I love stir-fried vegetables so I wanted to try a teriyaki sauce with my sprouts (I mean, what doesn’t taste good in teriyaki sauce?!).  I found a recipe for teriyaki glaze for Brussels sprouts that I could pair with our Baked Brussels Sprouts **FIX**dish, and the combination worked beautifully!

Asian-Glazed Brussels Sprouts

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

12 oz. Brussels Sprouts
Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, minced
Salt
Pepper
Sesame Seeds
For the Glaze
2 tbsp. Soy Sauce (I use reduced-sodium Tamari)
2 tbsp. Sake
2 tbsp. Brown Sugar
1/2 tbsp. Rice Vinegar
generous 1 tsp. Grated Ginger

1.  Using the first 5 ingredients, roast your Brussels sprouts following our Baked Brussels Sprouts **FIX**recipe.  I often use garlic olive oil instead of olive oil and minced garlic.  If you want extra sesame flavor, you could also add a drizzle of sesame oil to the sprouts before roasting – just keep in mind sesame oil is pretty strong so don’t overdo it.

2.  While the sprouts are baking, combine the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan.  Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook ~10 minutes until the sauce is thickened. Teriyaki Glaze 3.  When the Brussels sprouts are done roasting, transfer them to a bowl and drizzle with the glaze.  Stir to combine.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy! Asian-Glazed Sprouts Mmmm, don’t these look delicious!  These quick and easy Asian roasted Brussels sprouts make a healthy, hearty side dish.  If you think the picture above looks like a big plate of sprouts, you’d be right.  On this particular evening I ate the entire double batch by myself with a couple Lucky spring rolls for a delicious and filling meatless meal.  Everyone will love these Asian-Glazed Brussels Sprouts, even avowed vegetable-haters!