Saturday, February 13, 2016

Buffalo Chicken Casserole

This is one of Karl's favorite keto meals, and I've made it often enough that I've found just the right variation for us. The original recipe is from, which is a great resource for low carb living, but I've found that this version is a better fit for our cooking style (i.e.:lazy) and I think the flavors work out well for us.

You're going to want:
  • 6 chicken thighs, cubed
  • 6 slices of bacon (I vary this based on how much I need for breakfast the next day, but it always seems fine)
  • 4 medium jalapeño peppers (3 diced, 1 sliced)
  • 16 oz. cream cheese (strong preference for Philly brand here, it seems to melt best)
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 oz. shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 c. Frank's Red Hot
 First off, chop up the bacon (kitchen shears are great for this) and cook to your preferred bacon doneness in a large skillet or fry pan. I like bacon crispy but not crunchy, so that's how I roll. Once your bacon is perfect, use a slotted spoon to remove it from the fat and let it drain on a paper towel. (I have a mason jar for bacon drippings, so I just put a paper towel over that and let the bacon crumbles rest there.
Leave the rendered bacon fat in the pan, and add the diced jalapeño, sauteing over medium heat until tender. The bacon fat will take on some great flavor from the peppers, and end up looking nearly like olive oil in color. When the peppers are tender but still bright green, pull them out with your trusty slotted spoon and reserve with the bacon.
Into that lovely green bacon fat, toss all of your cubed chicken. (Now you see why we were using such a large pan for such a modest amount of bacon...)
Stir regularly until all the chicken is cooked, then pull out that slotted spoon again to deposit in an even layer on the bottom of a 9" x13" casserole.

In the Tiny Apartment, all chicken related steps are accompanied by a fair amount of this:
 Your mileage may vary, depending on the occupants of your kitchen, of course. 

Preheat the oven to 350°.

I reserved the drippings from the jalapeño sautéd chicken because it was just so lovely. It doesn't have a place in this recipe, but I put it in a small jar, and I'm thinking it might be a nice base for some sort of tortilla chicken soup shenanigans... I'll let you know how that turns out. But seriously, how could I throw that down the drain?

The second part of this project works best in a double boiler. You can totally just melt the cream cheese in a microwave, if you have one (we haven't found a place for one in the Tiny Kitchen, nor do we often miss it) but I think the sauce comes together better over gentle heat. I don't actually HAVE a double boiler though, so it's an old metal bowl to the rescue. Yes, I'm holding it in place with a hot mitt. Hush. (I should really consider buying one, we don't have much space, or much disposable income, but I've done this bowl-on-a-pot routine four times in the last week already... It might be time.)

Bring about an inch of water to a boil in the lower vessel, and drop your two bricks of cream cheese into the bowl. If you buy the tubs of cream cheese, I'd recommend measuring by weight, cream cheese doesn't measure by volume all that well. Let it melt on its own for a few minutes, then help it along by mashing until you can start to stir. Then add the sour cream. This is one of the changes from the source that I really like, because you can get a much smoother sauce if you don't already have the pepper and bacon lumping it up.

Once the cheese mixture is good and smooth, add the Frank's Red Hot. Be careful to stir this thoroughly, as it tends to accumulate on the bottom and streaks will emerge when you are convinced it is fully incorporated.

The resulting sauce will be a pretty pale orange, and is ready for the peppers and bacon that are languishing in their bowl over on the counter.

Mix those bad boys on in, and then pour the whole thing over the chicken in the casserole.

Smooth the cheese sauce over the chicken, spreading as though you were icing a cake. It will seep down between the pieces of chicken and hold the whole thing together. Pretty, but we could really do with some garnish...

Cover the casserole with the 4 oz. of shredded cheddar, and then add the sliced jalapeño, evenly distributed. Then sprinkle the mozzarella over the top.

All ready for the oven:

Bake for 15 minutes at 350°. Broil for 3-4 minutes to crisp up the cheese on top.

This packs well for lunches, assuming you have a microwave at work. (I'm pretty sure Karl has just eaten it cold more than once, but I'm pickier than that...) Cut into 6 pieces and enjoy.

Clean up is always critical in the Tiny Kitchen.

This mess utilized the following things that needed to be cleaned:
  • slotted spoon
  • silicone spatula
  • tablespoon measure
  • 1/2 cup measure
  • large chef's knife
  • pairing knife
  • metal bowl
  • small bowl
  • large skillet
  • saucepan
  • kitchen shears
  • mug for consumption of coffee

An Introduction of Sorts

Tiny Kitchen in action.
My husband Karl and I are very hip, cool cats. We must be, after all, we live in Brownstone Brooklyn. That's how that works, right?

Ok, so, it's Bed-Stuy, and by brownstone, I mean the meager half of a floor in a brownstone. It's a lovely place for one person, but let's call two and a cat... ambitious, shall we? It's the sort of place where the mattress, head to foot, is exactly the same size as the width of the 'bedroom' but you've gone ahead and oriented it that was so that you can fit dressers for two people. Climbing over the bed to get to the closet? Or over your partner to get INTO bed? That's how we roll in the Tiny Apartment.

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of smaller places - we do have that roomette we like to refer to as the bedroom! I'm quite proud of the living room, for a long skinny room, it does an excellent job of serving as office, lounge and dining room, with a side of library. The various areas are downright livable, and if we could just install a small TARDIS in place of the bedroom, we'd be all set.

First viewing of the Tiny Kitchen, note the ostracized fridge on the left.
Tiny Kitchen first look, poor ostracized fridge.    

Except for the kitchen. The kitchen is an abomination. (And yet, when I was looking for this apartment, I saw far worse!) The actual kitchen area is just under 6' deep and about 5' wide, inclusive of counter and some appliances. I say some, because the fridge doesn't fit in that space, when I moved in, it was sitting against a wall in the main room, the poor kid who got left out of the clubhouse.

Instant kitchen extension, just add library. (Biscuit making mother costs extra...)
Instant kitchen, just add library.
My mom and the friends who helped me move in are smarty pants for sure, and came up with the very clever idea of building a shelf house for the fridge with a pair of very elderly Ikea Billy shelves. (I'm 40, and those shelves were the divider between my sister's 'room' and my 'room' in our bedroom when I was 14 or so. Really old. Also quite accustomed to establishing non-rooms, I suppose.) 

We have since replaced those elderly shelves with the current version of Billy, which turns out to be much larger than the old one, and now masks the fridge entirely while also adding an alcove we like to refer to as the 'broom closet.' There was an old trunk that was called the 'linen closet' for the longest time, but that title now belongs to the small chest of drawers in the dining area which also serves as either the sofa table (if you're in the 'living room') or the sideboard (if you're dining.) There is only one actual closet in the Tiny Apartment, so we take our closets where we find them. The old Billy shelves, the 1980s version, turned out to be exactly the right width to fit in our windows, so we cut them down to make a nested-in shelf, which, if you ignore that it's in the dining area, turned out really well!

Two large and exceedingly happy people.
(Photo by Jenn Link Photography)
Karl and I were both considerably overweight when we met, and I have been since I was a teenager. I've tried all sorts of diets and exercise routines, with very little success, since then. Every time I would get discouraged (or get excited about some social event and the related eating and drinking) and fall off the wagon, and then, since I was already sitting in the mud on the side of the rocky road, I'd just open up another pint of Ben & Jerry's. Rinse. Repeat. I just never found the motivation to stick with it. Being thin/fit/healthy/whatever the word of the day was, never quite felt like enough of a possible goal to stick with restrictive diets and difficult schedules. And then I met my husband, and I realized on a much more visceral level why my mother was always so worried about ME. Turns out, I really do care about having a long and healthy life,  and I really care about HIM doing the same.

Several years ago, mom recommended Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. She didn't recommend it as a "diet book," which I probably would have ignored, but rather as an interesting food science tome that she was reading at the time. I picked up her copy idly while I was home for Christmas, and then when I returned to the Tiny Apartment, found that I wanted to know what else it had to say, and bought it for my Kindle. It's a pretty dense book, full of science and history and politics, and I thought it was fascinating. Taubes is a science journalist who has written for Discover, Science and other magazines, as well as several books. He started out focused more on physics and engineering, and I should probably read some of his other work. In Good Calories, Bad Calories, he's moved on to health and nutrition, and advocates carb restriction for weight loss. I'd read Atkins, of course, being a corpulent person, and the South Beach Diet, but neither of those managed to convince me or explain the science the way Taubes' absurdly named book did. (Seriously, it SOUNDS like a bad diet book....) Nor did they so effectively explain to me why we'd been getting such conflicting advice from medical professionals and governmental organizations. If you'd prefer a more concise version with a lot of the same conclusions, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It  might be more your speed. It's Taubes attempt to mainstream what was, I think, an unexpectedly popular book. So, once we got through our wedding, which was lovely, thank you, but rather a pain in the ass, we decided to do something about our weight, and when we did, Gary Taubes was still hanging out there in my back of my head.

With the help of the good people at /r/keto, we set out to track our food and cut our carbs pretty drastically, eating a very low carb, nutritional ketosis diet. 20g of carbs per day was the goal, and it took some adjusting, but also meant a lot of food experimentation, which is fun. And it worked. Boy did it ever work. All the sudden, I had so much more energy without the constant rise and fall of sugar driven consumption! And Karl's pants started falling off. We fell off the wagon again over this winter, between holidays and some general life stuff, but unlike every other time I'd fallen off a wagon ever, I didn't feel helpless about it at all. I felt like, "well, we know how to fix this, we just have to do it." So we're doing it again. Which is my long-winded way of saying that the Tiny Kitchen produces Tiny Carbs most of the time.

This week's agenda includes an update to a Buffalo Chicken Casserole recipe we've enjoyed in the past, and finally trying out Cauliflower 'Mac' and Cheese.... Stay tuned for more!