Are ya ready for Christmas?
Are ya tired of hearing that question?
I am. Tired of hearing that question, that is. Of course I am not ready for Christmas. Ever since I became an adult who is in charge of making Christmas happen at my house, I have not been ready for Christmas. What does that question mean anyway? Does it mean “have you gotten all of your Christmas shopping done?” or “Have you gotten all of your Christmas baking completed?” or “Have you wrapped all of the presents?” or “Are all of your decorations up?” or “Have you mailed/e-mailed/texted/tweeted/facebooked all of your Christmas cards” or “Have you done everything that everyone else thinks you are supposed to do at Christmas time?”. I dunno.
When I was a little kid, probably about 5 years old, my mother told me one day that Christmas was just around the corner. I took her literally and got on my bike and peddled to the end of our street. I stopped at the corner and looked both ways up and down the intersecting road. No Christmas in sight. I’m not sure what I had expected to see, but whatever it was, it wasn’t there. I peddled back home feeling pretty low and figured that my Mom had just lied to me.
I also remember that that was a momentous year for me as far as Christmas was concerned. I figured out that Santa wasn’t real…bummer. It served me right, I guess, because I was a pretty sneaky little kid. I snooped everywhere. I’d wait for my mom to go outside to hang out the laundry and then I’d go snooping in all of my favorite spots—all of the places that Mom put the things that she wanted to keep safe. One day I went snooping in Mom’s best secret hidey hole and found my Christmas presents…and my brother’s Christmas presents…and my sister’s Christmas presents…and I showed my brother his presents. My sister was only about 2 years old so she didn’t get the whole Christmas concept anyway. But my brother was another story. Anyway, I got busted. Mom blew her stack, I got a spanking, and was sent to bed for the longest naptime in history during which time I did NOT go to sleep so that’s how I know it was the longest naptime in history.
After I was an adult and married and had some children of my own, I told my mom how sneaky I was as a kid. I told her everything—I knew where she kept her oil pastels (those things made an enormous mess if you touched them); I knew everything that she kept in her special cedar box, a high school graduation present; I knew where she kept those delicious orange flavored baby aspirins and that I could get up to the medicine cabinet by carefully stepping from the edge of the bathtub to the sink and open the medicine cabinet—however I also knew to only eat one or maybe two of those so that they wouldn’t kill me, whatever ‘kill’ meant. She just stared at me with her mouth open as if I had just confessed to a capital crime. It really blew up her world. Not long after my confession, however, my mom surprised me by giving me her cedar box–the one in which I used to plunder with such abandon. It is a treasure.
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about my own daughter and the struggles that she is having with some particular behaviors exhibited by her own five year old. I’m sorta kinda feeling a teensy bit guilty that I may have inadvertently passed on some sneaky genes to my grandson.
Okay, so, are ya ready for Christmas? Need a helping hand getting dinner on the table so that you can have more time to do whatever it is that you need to do in order to get ready or maybe move your kid’s Christmas presents to another location just in case they are snoopy kinds of kids? Well, try out this fast and easy recipe for Chicken Parmesan Casserole. I found this recipe at Food Wishes Video Recipes with Chef John. It went together in a snap and turned out pretty tasty.
I have a few tips for you to help you get the best outcome with this recipe:
- Don’t use large chicken breasts. The thick ones take too long to cook and also there is just too much meat for all of the flavors to really be able to infuse the meat. I’m thinking that a good choice would the thinner chicken breasts such as the ones that come frozen individually in those Costco type of bags. If using frozen chicken breasts, be sure to defrost the chicken prior to baking.
- The recipe calls for garlic croutons. Be warned—there can be some pretty intense garlicky flavor in some brands of croutons. I knew that I had gone overboard when my husband said something to the effect of, “Uhhhh, Honey? Next time when you make this could you not use so much garlic?” Trust me, him asking me to use less garlic has never, ever, ever happened in the 31 years that we have been together. Usually we are doing the happy dance around here when there is garlic in our food.
- Use a food thermometer to gauge when the chicken is done. I used a reading of 165-degrees F, but Chef John states in his video to use 155-degrees. Safe recommendations for chicken are 160-165. Chef John also states that he uses the 155 degrees and then allows the dish to sit for 10 minutes before eating. It is true that while the dish sits, the internal temperature of the chicken continues to rise and the appropriate temperature will be reached. I will freely admit that I am a freak about poultry temperatures and for me the chicken has to reach 165-degrees in the oven before I am willing to take it out and eat it. Can’t help it, it’s just the way I am.
- Use a nice quality bottled pasta sauce. May I kindly urge you to not use a cheap brand? You don’t have to use gourmet stuff, but do your family a flavor favor and get a decent brand. You could make your own sauce using this Simple Roasted Tomato and Garlic Sauce, but that would defeat the purpose of making this a fast and easy casserole.
Prep Time: 10 mins | Cook Time: 35 mins | Total Time: 45 mins | Yield: 6 servings
Recipe by Chef John at Food Wishes Video Recipes
A tasty alternative to traditional chicken Parmesan, this family friendly casserole comes together quickly. Although the original recipe states a baking time of 35 minutes, it may take up to 1 hour, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- hot red pepper flakes, to taste
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves—avoid using thick breast halves; they can be difficult to cook evenly throughout
- 2 cups marinara sauce—I used the whole bottle (about 3 1/2 cups) because we like sauce and I didn’t want to have 1 1/2 cups of left over pasta sauce sitting around
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (a little over 1 tablespoon if using dried basil)
- 8 ounces shredded mozzarella
- 4 ounces grated Parmesan
- 1 (5 ounce) package garlic flavored croutons
- Preheat oven to 350-dgrees F.
- Drizzle the two tablespoons of olive oil over the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.
- Sprinkle the chopped garlic evenly over the olive oil.
- Sprinkle some red pepper flakes, to taste, over the garlic and olive oil.
- Salt and pepper the chicken breasts and place the chicken breasts on top of the olive oil/garlic/red pepper flakes.
- Pour the pasta sauce over the chicken breasts.
- Sprinkle the basil over the pasta sauce.
- Sprinkle half of the mozzarella and half of the Parmesan on top of the chicken.
- Pour the croutons on top of the cheeses.
- Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan on top of the croutons.
- Bake for about 35 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size or thickness of the chicken breasts. The final internal temperature should be 165-degrees. (Please see note #3 above.) I used 6 thick chicken breasts and it took about an hour for them to cook completely. If the top is browning too much before the chicken is done, simply lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the casserole and continue to bake until the chicken has reached the appropriate temperature.
Drizzle the olive oil in the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Then scatter the chopped garlic and the red pepper flakes over the olive oil. Kind of move things around in the dish as evenly as possible.
Pour the pasta sauce over the chicken breasts. The original recipe calls for 2 cups of pasta sauce, but I used the whole 3 1/2 cup jar. I didn’t want to have 1 1/2 cups of extra pasta sauce in the fridge. Additionally, we like more sauce with our meal.
Bake for about 35 minutes or until internal temperature of chicken reaches 165-degrees F. For best results, use chicken breasts that are of a fairly equal thickness. The flavors do not penetrate large, thick chicken breasts as well as they do thinner chicken breasts. Also, it will take much longer to cook thick chicken breasts. The cheese on this casserole is over-baked due to the fact that the chicken breasts I used were too thick and I had to cook the casserole much longer than Chef John’s stated 35 minutes. Don’t be me.