Whew! Last week was an absolute whirlwind at Casa Jared and Katrina. Between Jared’s birthday, the move out of our apartment and a puppy surgery for poor little Ella all in a six-day spread (yes, we know we must be bonkers), we’re just now starting to catch our breath. Luckily we (along with all of our worldly possessions) have officially reached our landing pad for the summer, Jared successfully rang in another year, and Ella is nearly back to her old self (minus the pink stitches she’s sporting on her back knees and her strict no-activity orders from the doc). After a week of nonstop craziness, our relaxy taxi Memorial Day weekend plans sound pretty much perfect.
Despite all the hullabaloo of the past week, we did still have to eat. Birthdays are a pretty big deal at our place, so yesterday’s menu was all about Jared and his birthday-worthy picks. He’s not much of a cake guy, so for dessert he requested the New York Times brownies and brown sugar shortbread. Both easy peasy. Dinner, however, was a little bit trickier. About a year and a half ago, Jared, my little brother and sister and I spent an entire evening in the kitchen recreating our favorite Cheesecake Factory dish, Louisiana Chicken Pasta. It’s rich, spicy and delicious, but it’s a bear to put together, and between all the vegetable chopping, sauce making and chicken frying, it’s a mess-maker for sure. But the whole evening with all of us together in the kitchen was so fun, and the homemade meal ended up tasting so close to the real thing, we were all pretty proud of ourselves.
So when I asked Jared what he wanted for his birthday dinner and he casually mentioned Louisiana Chicken Pasta, I knew we had a bit of work on our hands. Luckily, Jared is a mighty nice kitchen companion with crackerjack chopping skills, and he didn’t mind lending a hand toward the creation of his celebratory meal. We were a little bit faster this time around (it took about two hours start to finish versus the two and a half to three hours it took last time) and made a few modifications to the recipe to get even closer to the Cheesecake Factory version. By the end of the meal, we had a kitchen filled with empty pots, cleaned plates and full tummies. I think it was a home run.
Louisiana Chicken Pasta
From the Cheesecake Factory, recipe by #1 Baker on Food.com
• 4 tablespoons canola oil
• 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in half
• ¾ cup breadcrumbs
• ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 cup milk (I used 1%, though skim or 2% would be fine, too.)
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
• 1 red bell pepper, chopped
• ¾ of 1 small red or yellow onion, chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• ½ to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (This really depends on how spicy you want it. I used about ¾ teaspoon, and it still had some kick.)
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream (The original recipe calls for 1 pint, but we found the sauce too rich and heavy the first time around when we used the full amount, so this time I halved the cream and added ½ cup more chicken broth instead.)
• 1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth (Again, the original called for 1 cup, but the extra ½ makes up for using less heavy whipping cream.)
• 4 tablespoons fresh basil, julienned
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 (12-ounce) package bow tie pasta
• 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the yellow and red bell peppers, mushrooms and onion, and sauté until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper, and sauté for about 3 minutes.
Add heavy whipping cream and chicken stock, and simmer until sauce reheats and thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the basil and 1 cup grated Parmesan to sauce, and stir to incorporate. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper, reduce heat to low, and simmer. Sauce will reduce and thicken (Note: If sauce doesn’t thicken up as much as you’d like, you can always add a tablespoon or two of cornstarch to get the desired consistency. Using less cream and more broth does make for a runnier sauce, and a little thickening might be necessary.)
Place chicken breasts between two sheets of cellophane (leaving room for them to flatten out), and pound them with a meat tenderizer until very thin (the thinner the better).
Mix breadcrumbs, flour and ¼ cup Parmesan together in a dish for dipping. Place milk in a dish for dipping.
Dip chicken in breadcrumb mixture, then in milk and then back in breadcrumbs. Place in a fry pan with canola oil (oil should be heated over medium-high heat before chicken goes in). Fry at medium-high until golden crisp on each side (you’ll have to flip them once) and cooked through. Add more oil as needed. Remove and drain chicken, and keep warm (a dish covered in foil works well).
In the meantime, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain and return to the pot. Add sauce, and toss to coat.
Place pasta with sauce on plate, and top with chicken breast. Serve with Parmesan cheese.
Here, here for restaurant recipes made at home that still taste like the real thing! This is far from a once-a-week kind of meal, but it’s nice to know that we can whip it up for a special occasion and end the evening with a tummy full of happy.
Have you ever recreated a favorite restaurant recipe? Was it a hit? A flop? A whole bunch of mess? And what’s your go-to birthday menu? Can’t wait to hear about it!