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Monday, March 18, 2013

Chicken stuffed shells

Didn't your mom make the best food ever?  When you think of the food of your childhood your mom's food should really stand out.  You will probably always compare everyone else's food to hers, even when you shouldn't.  Men do it all the time.  How many times have you heard a man complaining about his wife's cooking?  "That's not how Mama makes it," they whine.  Well, it may not be how your Mama makes it, but it's how I make it and if you don't like it you can go eat at your Mama's house.

Seriously though, my Mom made the best dinners when I was little.  She's the person who cooked me roast beef in the crock pot with mashed potatoes and gravy and peas every time I had strep throat.  She makes the best chicken and dumplings.  When I was pregnant she made my favorite chicken veggie spaghetti pie (I promise to share that one with you soon, it really is my favorite) and chicken tortellini soup and chili (mmmmmm Mom's chili) and chicken potato burritos.  I could go on and on about her food.  She's adventurous in the kitchen.  I was thinking one night and decided to shoot her a text message about some beef enchiladas I wanted to try to make and when I got there the next Tuesday she was already working on them.  They were exactly how I had imagined they would be and she made them without a recipe.  She just took my description and ran with it.

Since I learned to cook from my parents I also learned to cook without measuring much.  Sure, I measure when I bake and when I'm following a new recipe, but for the most part when I season something I just shake a little into the pan until it smells like I got enough or until it tastes right.  I often cook entirely by smell, adding the spices that smell good together seems to work most of the time.  According to my dad I saved a dish once by adding fennel just because it smelled right.

My Mom makes these amazing stuffed shells.  She makes them about a million different ways.  She sometimes stuffs them with broccoli and crab meat, sometimes with sausage and squash, sometimes with chicken and cheese.  I love them all, but I'm not as good at creating winning combinations so I tend to stick with the chicken ones.  (Although, I did find a recipe for taco stuffed shells on Pinterest that turned out pretty awesome, but Aaron didn't like them as much as these.)  The filling of the shells is moist and cheesy and so easy to make you'll really wonder if that's all there is to it.

These are not exactly like my Mom's.  I have her recipe, but somewhere along the way I forgot how she made hers and improvised my own recipe.  I happen to like them both, but for me these are easier than hers and since they taste almost identical I've just stuck with my own method.  They go great with garlic toast or garlic knots and I love some salad on the side, but they're also good all by themselves.

Chicken Stuffed Shells

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into smallish chunks
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (or 1/4 tsp each basil and oregano)
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4-1 1/4 cups bread crumbs (I use 1/2 roasted garlic flavored and 1/2 plain)
2-3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4-1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1 box jumbo pasta shells
1 jar pasta sauce

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil.  Cook the shells in the water for 14-15 minutes.  You don't have to cook them all.  I'd say a good size serving per person is about 5 shells.  (I could eat 10, but I'm a pig hahaha.)  This recipe should make 30-40 shells.

Drain and set aside.

In a non-stick skillet brown the chicken.  Season with Italian seasoning and salt and pepper.


When the chicken is cooked through remove from the heat and add the garlic.  Set aside to cool.

Spray a baking dish with vegetable oil spray and spread a layer of pasta sauce on the bottom of the pan.

In a medium mixing bowl combine the chicken and bread crumbs.  The chicken will kind of become coated with the bread crumbs.  Add enough that not all of it will stick to the chicken.  You want about 1/4-1/2 cup of it loose in the bowl.

Add about 1-2 cups of the cheese.  (These measurements are estimates.  If you like lots of cheese add more.  One pound of chicken should make 25-35 shells.  You can always stretch the filling by adding more bread crumbs and cheese if it looks like you're going to run out before you get all of the shells filled.)

Somebody was begging for cheese cubes at the kitchen door.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Add the chicken broth or water to the filling mix.  You want to add just enough to moisten the bread crumbs so they stick together.  When you can make a lump of filling with your hand like this you know you have added enough.  I like to mix it with my hand so I can feel how wet it's getting.

Fill each shell with a lump of filling mixture.  Don't worry if you break some shells, no one will know once they're covered with sauce.

Put the shells in the prepared pan.

Continue until filling, shells, or space runs out.  I had to cram the last 5 shells into this 8x8 pan.  I made 25 shells tonight.

Pour sauce over the shells.  (I don't know why this picture is turned sideways.  It's not sideways on the computer.)

Cover the shells with the remaining cheese.  Spray a piece of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and cover.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes.

I went to check on Bailey when I finally had everything in the oven and she was looking super cute playing alone in her bedroom.

When the cheese is browned and bubbly remove from the oven and serve warm.


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