Bowls full of happy pt. 1 – Cajun Chicken Alfredo

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If I mention a bowl full of happy, more than likely I’m talking about pasta (or Lucky Charms, but for this post, I’m focusing on the pasta). It could be any kind of pasta, I don’t discriminate. It’s probably a fact that I eat more bowls full of happy than I need to, but that doesn’t stop me from continuing to have these for dinner when the sweet boy and I actually have time to do just that… sit down for dinner.

I’m facing a month of days when I’m pretty sure the only time I’ll be home is to sleep, and even then I’m skeptical. I guess that’s the life of someone in the venue management industry. I suppose I live for that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t treasure the times when things seem a bit normal. Knowing that nice, slow evenings at home are going to be scarce for a while, I took the opportunity to make a BIG ol’ bowl of carbs last night.

Enter Chicken Alfredo.

This might possibly be our favorite make at home pasta. Alfredo is stupid easy provided you can manage not to scald the cream. This sauce is good over an shape of pasta, so it’s a good recipe to use to make to empty out your pasta pantry (what, you don’t have a space specifically for your pasta? Me neither in real life, but in my dream kitchen I do). It’s also good with many different fillers. I’ve used bacon, tomato, spinach, mushrooms, chicken, peppers, shrimp – you name it, it’s probably good in this sauce.

Last night I made it cajun style with some blackened chicken and mushrooms (okay, mushrooms aren’t cajun, but they are good in this pasta) served over penne but I usually use rotini. Is your mouth watering yet? Good, grab a snack and read on.

Adapted from Emeril’s recipe here.

Start by cooking up some chicken tenders (I cut up boneless breasts that I stock up on when they are on sale, but you can use the pre-cut tenders if you’re feeling rich). I cook mine up in a pan with a bit of olive oil and season those bad boys with a generous amount of blackening seasoning (or Cajun seasoning, I think they are the same thing). Don’t add more salt to the seasoning, it’s salty enough.

Cook as much chicken as you like, but i typically do 2 – 2.5 tenders/person or 1 chicken breast for 2-3 people.

While the chicken is cooking, dice up a slice of red onion. Dice it up small. I mean SMALL. you basically want the onion to melt into the sauce. Go ahead and mince a clove of garlic while you’re at it. Go along with that small theme you started with the onion. If you have one of those garlics with GINORMOUS cloves, just use half a clove. We aren’t fending off vampires here. It’s just dinner.

Don’t forget about that chicken! I usually turn it at this point as long as it’s good and golden brown on one side.

Grab a handful of baby bella mushrooms (crimini mushrooms are their technical name) and slice them fairly thin, 1/8 of an inch should do the trick. You can slice them a bit thicker if you want, but I’m for a quick meal here and don’t have all night to cook mushrooms. Again, use as many of these as you like. I use about 3/4 of a cup of sliced mushrooms for 2 servings. We like fungus.

The Sweet Boy’s best friend does not like fungus but LOVES this dinner so he tolerates having to pick out the mushrooms later. Basically, I’m saying don’t omit this just because someone around your dinner table (or coffee table as it is on our case) decided early in life that they have a textural issue with mushrooms.

Your chicken should be done at this point. Remove it to a plate and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Melt it slowly, don’t let it brown. Take your time with this process. Add the onions and garlic in. Again, cook these guys slowly. Burned onions and garlic do not a bowl full of happy make. I stray from the original recipe here and add a generous pinch of dried red pepper flakes or seeds here. If you’re a bit wimpy when it comes to heat, you can omit this step.

While the onions are cooking, bring a pasta sized pot of water to a boil and cook your preferred pasta for the required length to achieve the perfect al dente. Drain the pasta reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta liquid (I never use it, but I always save it just in case my sauce turns out too thick).

Cook this the onions and garlic until soft. Add a half cup of heavy cream at this point. Don’t worry about your diet. this meal is worth straying.

Mmmm. Butter.

Mmmm. Heavy cream.

Mmmm. Pasta.

You can have a salad tomorrow. Today, let’s just enjoy.

Bring cream to a simmer and grate some fresh nutmeg over the top. I probably add 1/8 teaspoon but I never measure. If you like nutmeg, you can’t go wrong with this step… unless you use that ground nutmeg from the store. Never use that. Always grate your own as needed. Allow sauce to simmer for about 5 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, add a bit of olive oil to the same pan you cooked your chicken in, and add in the mushrooms. Saute those little guys until cooked through and remove from the heat. You can add a bit of salt and pepper after they are cooked, but you don’t have to. You can dice up the chicken to desired sized bites at this point and add to the mushroom pan. The leftover heat will help reheat the chicken a bit. If your chicken doesn’t reheat, no big deal, the sauce will take care of this step later.

After the sauce has reduced a bit, add 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese and allow to melt. Return the pasta to the pasta pan, add the chicken and mushroom and then dump that delicious, calorie laden, amazing alfredo sauce all over it. If it’s a bit thick, you can start adding small amounts of the pasta water in to thin it out. I said SMALL amounts. Now is not the time to be in a hurry. Stir it up, add another 1/4 cup of grated parm to the pot and viola!

You now have a pot full of happy to portion into bowls. I top mine with diced roma tomatoes and green onion.

It’s delicious.

It’s better than the cajun chicken pasta at Chili’s.Actually, a lot of things are better than the items at Chili’s.I’m still mad that they took away my ranchero chicken tacos.I’ll take that to my grave.

I haven’t been back since I made that discovery.

DARN YOU CHILI’S!

Ahem, but I digress. I hope you love this pasta. Let me know if you make it and what spin you put on it. It’s very versatile. It’s not, however, very good for you. You can’t get the best of both worlds.

Disclaimer: I recommend following Emeril’s recipe first to get the hang of this. You’ll learn if you want more parm or more cream by doing this. I no longer use a recipe and just go by site. You’ll get the hang of it… it’s super simple.

Alternate version: Use italian seasoning, salt and pepper on the chicken for a mild version. It’s still good, but not AS good.

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