Monday, September 30, 2013

Weeknight Crispy Chicken Pasta & Strawberry Orange Spinach Salad

I've been debating for a while on what to call this. I got my inspiration from Chicken Parmesan, but needed something that I could cook in a much shorter amount of time.  I almost called it Chicken Parmesan casserole, but figured the name would turn my kids off to it. For this dish I used precooked frozen chicken tenders to make it a quick weeknight meal. The key to making this dish cook so quickly is "pre-cooking" the meat. It's going to sound like a ridiculous process, but trust me it gets done a lot faster this way:)

10 oz. of uncooked rotini or penne pasta (I use the veggie kind to hide some nutrition)
1 Tbsp. Butter
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove minced garlic
4 frozen chicken tenders (the kind you get precooked in a bag)
1 jar spaghetti or marinar sauce
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup shredded parmesan

Start off by getting your pasta water boiling. Then chop up your onions and heat up the butter in a skillet on medium and cook the onions until they are translucent and some start to turn brown. Meanwhile add your pasta to or of water once it starts to boil.

Now for the get the chicken to cook fast, place it on a microwave safe place and cook for 1.5 minutes. These speeds up the cooking time by a lot! Then place in oven at 400 for about 7 minutes to get it crispy. We don't want to wait to cook this in the oven with the whole meal put together because again, it will take too long. Using the microwave and stovetop will allow us to just be able to broil the finished meal for 3 minutes. You're really just using the time it takes to boil the pasta to heat the chicken quickly. Now you can add the garlic to your onions and cook about 3 minutes then turn to low.

About the time is your pasta is done, you're chicken can come out of the oven. Leave the oven on so it stays hot for the finished product. Slice the chicken tenders and add them to the skillet with the onions and garlic.

Turn back up to medium high and cook the chicken for 3-4 minutes to get even crispier. While it looks like a lot, this whole process up to now should only have taken 10-15 minutes.  Reduce the heat on the skillet to medium. Add your sauce to the skillet, again just long enough to heat it thoroughly.

Drain your pasta and mix the sauce and chicken mix to the pasta in a large bowl and toss around to coat the pasta in the sauce. Add about half of the mozzarella and Parmesan to the bowl and stir. Pour into a 2 quart oven safe dish, top with the remaining cheese and stick in the oven. Turn your oven to broil and cook just until the cheese starts to brown.

For the salad, I really can't even call this a recipe. While I do love to make my own salad dressings and such, I'm trying to throw this entire meal together in about 20 minutes, so I'm using  jarred dressing and canned fruit!

Strawberry Orange Spinach Salad (just use the desired amount of each for the number of people eating the salad):
Baby spinach
Mandarin oranges (the canned kind)
Pine nuts
Gorgonzola or mozzarella cheese
Strawberry vinaigrette (could also use a raspberry dressing and change the name to Raspberry Orange Spinach Salad)

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and toss just before serving. Enjoy!