What should I do with the left-overs? …Grilled chicken and smokey vegetables

I had about half of my smokey vegetables left over from my first grilling session of the season. I often have left-overs from the dinners that I make. I am really only cooking for two (me and Dan) and I usually portion out dinners to feed at least four people. I do this for two reasons; I like to have an easy lunch the next day or I like to create an easy dinner the next night.

If you grilled the chicken and veggies from my last post, you can easily prep for tomorrow’s dinner as you are packing up your left-overs to stash in the refrigerator. Just a few simple extra steps makes the next day easier.

As I was getting ready to store my extra grilled chicken, I pulled all the meat off the bones. This is a much easier task when the chicken is still warm. You can even cut it into cubes if you are going to make this recipe. You can prep the veggies as you clean up that night too, but it is just as easy to get them ready the next day. I just took the veggies off the skewers and put them all into a container to go into the refrigerator.

Here’s what I came up with to use up my left-overs:

Creamy Chicken and Veggie Pasta

4 pieces grilled chicken, meat removed from the bones and cubed.

about 2 cups left over grilled veggies (onions, artichokes, small sweet peppers)

1 tsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic

4 tbsp butter

4 tbsp. flour

4 cups milk

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

16 oz. mini penne or shell pasta

For the sauce: Heat up the olive oil in a large deep pan or sauce pot. Add the garlic and saute just until fragrant, melt in the butter and add the flour, whisking to make a golden-colored roux. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk at a time until it is all incorporated and your sauce is thick and creamy. Add in the Parmesan and parsley and season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare you vegetables (if you haven’t already last night). Cut the onions in half because we cut them a little big to fit on the skewers the first time. Cut the peppers into smaller pieces and remove the stem and small amount of seed that are inside. If you decide to cut the artichokes in half, only cut the larger size ones and cut them carefully because they will fall apart easily.

While the pasta cooks, mix the chicken and vegetables into the sauce to heat them through. Cook you pasta to al dente. Save a little of the pasta water when you drain the pasta in case your sauce is too thick. This is how I like to thin the sauce out, it is better than just adding cold water to your sauce because the pasta water is seasoned a little with salt.

Mix you pasta with your sauce, chicken and veggies. If the sauce is too thick, add the pasta water a little bit at a time to thin it out. Serve the pasta dish with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and fresh cracked pepper on top.

I used whole wheat shells for this dish but I think it would be better with just regular pasta. I like whole wheat pasta with tomato-based sauces and regular pasta with creamy sauces. Either way, it was pretty good!

I also had a great idea for a pasta dish that you can eat at room temperature. Just add the chicken and veggies into cooked pasta and mix it up with a vinaigrette dressing – you could use olive oil and the garlic vinaigrette that we used for the marinade and add some fresh basil. It would be a great dinner for a summer night.

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Spring Grilling Tips, Perfect Chicken and Smokey Veggies

It has been incredibly lovely outside in Lancaster!  On Tuesday I walked home from work without a coat and I decided it was time to clean out the grill and make something smokey.

I had chicken legs and thighs in the refrigerator that I had planned to bake in the oven, but I decided to prepare them for grilling as soon as I got home. I would normally marinate them overnight but I only had an hour and I really wanted to be outside using the grill. I cleaned up my 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken legs and thighs, rubbed them with salt and pepper and placed them in a zip-top bag with 1/4 cup of Garlic Expressions vinaigrette and 1/4 cup of olive oil.

While the chicken was marinating, I cleaned up the grill and got my charcoal heated up. I like to use a charcoal grill so much that I got rid of my propane gas grill when we moved a few years ago. I have a simple Weber One-Touch and some of their accessories. A lot of people think it is too much work to get the coals lit and ready, but if you get one of these contraptions it makes your charcoal heat up pretty quickly.

It’s called a chimney starter. You stuff the bottom with a piece of newspaper (or fire starters) and light it. The cylinder shape shoots the flames up into the coals like…yes… a chimney! I’ll share my secret for getting the coals to light even faster: Twist up a piece of newspaper so it looks like a wick to a candle. Place the wick in the center of the starter standing up and surround it with your coals… like the wick of a candle. You can light the newspaper on the bottom and the top and your coals will catch fire even quicker… if you are really the impatient type.

While the chicken is marinating and you have the grill coals heating up… get your veggies ready!

I am using a medium size sweet spanish onion cut into large chunks, a box of frozen artichoke hearts (thawed), and about a pound of mini sweet peppers. The peppers can go right on the grill, they are large enough that they won’t fall through the grates but I put the onions and artichokes on bamboo skewers so they won’t get lots through the grates. Drizzle all of your veggies with the same garlic vinaigrette as we marinated the chicken with and olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Ready to grill!

I have spent a lot of time perfecting the way I cook chicken. Chicken is such a staple… it’s cheap, it’s readily available, and if it s cooked bad, it’s can make your dinner a disaster… if it’s cooked good, it can make you a star chef! Here’s how I set up the grill to get juicy, perfectly grilled chicken. It takes a little longer but it is so worth it.

Put your hot coals on one side of the lower grill grate and add enough extra briquettes to last you about 1 hour of cooking time. Place an aluminum foil pan on the other side. You can buy disposable ones at the grocery store or you can just make your own out of two sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Make sure the sides of your pan are at least 2 inches high, you are going to want it to hold about a 1/2 gallon of water. Fit your pan in next to the coals and pour in the water. Here’s what my set up looks like:

Replace the upper grill grate and put the lid on the grill with the vents open. Allow the grill to heat up for a few minutes. Then remove the lid so that you can clean the upper grate. I like to use a triangular wire grill brush. It easily scrapes away anything on your grate. Make sure you heat up the grill grate before scraping, it makes it a lot easier to clean.

Take your chicken out of the zip top bag and place it on the side of the grill above the water pan (skin side up). Reserve the rest of the marinade in the bag for when you flip the chicken. Cover the grill and allow the chicken to cook for about 20 minutes. Here’s what it looks like after about 20 minutes:

Flip the chicken over (skin side down now) and brush some of the marinade onto the pieces. Look at the grill marks that are starting to form!

Cover the grill again and allow the chicken to cook for another 20 minutes.  Use a thermometer to check the temperature of your chicken, the thermometer should read 160-165 degrees F. Flip the chicken over (skin side up) onto the other side of the grill (right over the hot coals). Only leave the chicken there for a few minutes and repeat on the other side. This will crisp up the skin but be sure to watch it because it will burn quickly!

Remove the chicken and place it onto a piece of aluminum foil. Wrap the chicken and let it rest until you have grilled your veggies.

You can start the veggies while you are crisping the skin on the chicken. Here’s a grill full of deliciousness!

Place the veggies on the side of the grill over the water pan and cover for about ten minutes. The veggies will get warm and a little softer without getting burned on the outside. Remove the cover and place the veggies over the hot coals for a few minutes on each side, just to get a little char around the outside.

Remove the veggies and place them onto a platter. You can serve everything family style but I like to create a plate for each person.

Serve the chicken and veggies with a nice salad topped with this vinaigrette: 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp. of the garlic vinaigrette that was used for the marinade, 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. My salad included baby spinach, baby pea tendrils, mustard greens, and shredded romaine lettuce.

I like to make a little extra dressing and toss the artichokes in it because they can get a little dry on the grill. Pile everything onto your plate and enjoy. The colors really look lovely together, don’t you think?

A perfect grilled dinner on a beautiful day! We paired this dinner with a cool Nugget Nectar from Troegs Brewing Company and ate out on the back deck, here’s to an early start to spring!

P.S – Check out what I’m doing with the left overs in my next post!

Italian Night: Stuffed Peppers

I have been craving some pasta and sauce so I made stuffed peppers last night. I really can’t go very many nights without eating some form of Italian dinner involving pasta. The stuffed peppers do not include pasta stuffed inside but I like to cook some and serve the pepper on top of a mound of macaroni.

Whenever I make these it reminds me of home. My mom used to make stuffed peppers a lot when I was growing up… which is probably why I get cravings for them now. I put my own little twist into them every time I make them. This version includes hot Italian sausage and ground beef.

Spicy Stuffed Peppers

1 lb. hot Italian pork sausage

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef

6 large bell peppers (green are traditional, but I  use all colors)

1/2 large yellow onion

4 large cloves garlic

1 tsp. rosemary leaves

1 tbsp. flat leaf parsley

2 tsp. thyme

6 pieces day old white bread (I use bakery bread that’s getting a little stale)

2 eggs

2 tbsp. light cream

1 28 oz. can tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the tops off the peppers and clean out the insides. You will be left with a pepper you can stuff your filling into and it should stand upright. I use a chili pot that six bell peppers fit into nicely.

Remove the stem from the top part of the pepper. You’ll have pretty good amount of left over bell pepper from the six tops you cut off. This will be mixed into the meat filling.

Add the pepper tops, onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and parsley to a food processor. Pulse the veggies and herbs until they are mixed and cut into small pieces.

In another bowl, beat the eggs and cream together.

Cut the bread into small cubes and sprinkle it with a little water to make it moist.

Add the vegetable mixture, eggs and cream, sausage, meat, bread cubes and salt and pepper to a large mixing bowl. Mix everything together using your hands until well mixed and it is sticking together. Divide the mixture into 6 portions.

Stuff each pepper with the mixture and place them into the pot, standing upright. Pour the tomato sauce over the top of each one and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, spooning the sauce over the tops of the peppers periodically. Turn them down to low and let them simmer for 30 minutes more.

The peppers will become soft and tender, the stuffing will be super moist, the sauce will become thin and a little spicy. Serve the peppers on a bed of cooked small pasta (like elbows or ditallini) or with some nice crusty bread and butter to soak up all the yummy sauce.

Mmmm…. Just like my mom used to make.