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Warm meals for dry, cold weather: Casserole, creamy Tuscan chicken

Now we can all sit back and take a breather from the holidays and get back to making more simple meals that are less stressful than their festive counterparts. I love making casseroles, they are simple and usually one or two pans for cleaning up. Here is a casserole dish that is good for the colder weather and will warm you up.

Beef and Cheddar Casserole

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt

3 cups egg noodles, whatever size you prefer (about 5 ounces)

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 pound ground beef, or meat of your choice

1 red pepper, seeded and chopped

1 bunch scallions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon italian seasoning

One 14 1/2 ounce can petite diced tomatoes

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 2 quart baking dish. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook to al dente according to package directions. Drain and put in the prepared baking dish. Toss with the sour cream, Parmesan and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 5-10 minutes. Add the bell pepper and scallions and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Make a space in the pan, add the tomato paste and toast for a minute. Sprinkle with the Italian seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Add the diced tomatoes, stir and bring to a simmer. Cook until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes.

Pour the beef mixture over the noodles and sprinkle with the grated cheddar cheese.

Bake on the middle rack until the cheese is melted and the edges are bubbling, 15-20 minutes.

Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Hint: This can be a gluten-free casserole. Swap out the regular noodles for gluten-free noodles. You can use ground turkey or meatloaf mix instead of ground beef, it is totally up to you. Add a salad and you have a great meal in no time.

This next recipe can be a dessert or a breakfast treat for family or company.

Banana Oat Muffins

2 cups gluten-free oat flour

1/2 cup gluten-free rolled oats

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed bananas, about 3 small bananas

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup milk, or milk of your choice

1/3 cup oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, combine oat flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, combine bananas, sugars, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla, mixing thoroughly.

Stir the flour mixture into banana mixture until well combined.

Scoop batter into muffin tins, filling cups 3/4 full.

Bake the muffins until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15-20 minutes.

Allow muffins to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Hint: These are gluten-free muffins and no one will know. I did a few substitutions on my own for this recipe. Instead of the white and brown sugars, I used coconut sugar the same total amount. I also substituted coconut oil for the regular oil. They are very moist muffins. I hope these recipes in the new year reach your table at some point for something simple but a little different.

-Pamela Rolley

This pear salad with a cranberry orange vinaigrette is a balance of tart and tangy with a bit of sweet and salty while also bringing the nutritious bite.

Pear Spinach Salad with Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette

Servings: 6

Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup fresh cranberries

1/2-1 teaspoon orange zest

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

Salad:

5 oz baby spinach

2 Bartlett pears (semi-firm but ripe), cored and sliced

1/2 cup dried cranberries

3/4 cup chopped pecans

1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese (optional)

For the dressing: Add all of the vinaigrette ingredients to a food processor, beginning with 1/2 teaspoon zest and adding more to taste as you go. Pulse until cranberries have been pureed into dressing.

Transfer to a jar, cover and chill until ready to use.

For the salad: Layer salad ingredients into a bowl. Drizzle desired amount of dressing over top or top each individual serving with dressing. Serve immediately.

This one-pan creamy chicken dinner will definitely make your taste buds happy. It has garlic, fresh herbs, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, making an easy at-home Italian plate.

Creamy Tuscan Chicken

Servings: 4

1 shallot, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon pepper

4 chicken breasts (or chicken thighs, see notes)

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1.5 cups full fat coconut milk

1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes

1/4 cup basil chopped

3 cups spinach

Chopped parsley optional topping

Prepare shallot and garlic as noted. Place Italian seasoning, sea salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix.

Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of parchment paper and pound them down to make them even in thickness. Sprinkle each side of the chicken with the Italian seasoning mix.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add butter.

Once hot, add the chicken to the pan. You may have to cook the chicken in 2 batches depending on the size of your pan.

Cook, without disturbing for 3-4 minutes, until a nice brown crust has formed. Flip and cook another 3-4 minutes on the other side, until the chicken is almost cooked through.

While the chicken is cooking, whisk together chicken broth and cornstarch.

Remove chicken from the skillet and set aside. Lower the heat to medium.

Add more butter if needed and add the garlic and shallot to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes until aromatic.

Add coconut milk, chicken broth, sun dried tomatoes and basil to the pan. Stir to mix, scraping up any browned bits remaining in the pan from when you cooked your chicken.

Add the chicken breasts back to the skillet with the sauce. Cover and turn heat down to low. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked.

When the chicken is almost finished, add in the spinach. You might have to add it in batches. Stir the spinach in until wilted.

Serve with vegetables, rice or quinoa. Spoon some sauce over everything for serving. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

-Karen Sick

The Recipe Gals, Pam Rolley and Karen Sick, together have more than 60 years’ experience as nutritionists in the public school and university settings. You’ll find their delicious offerings every other week in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette’s section, The Taste.

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