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Having four children is a blessing beyond measure. Truly it is. But having a gaggle of kids is not with out sacrifice. For instance, fine dining becomes an exception rather than the rule. However, having a gaggle of kids makes date night a marital necessity. We’re talking sanity, people. Sane parents are happy and effective parents.
I’ve mentioned on several occasions how much the Bacon Slayer and I like to eat out. Enjoying a great meal that was served to me, with someone else cleaning up is a little slice of heaven. But with babysitting running about $10 per hour, we tend to do “in house dates,” instead.
In house dates usually go a little something like this: feed kids, get kids in bed, cook an incredibly decadent meal with dessert, then dine like adults and enjoy a real dinner conversation.
No fielding of endless questions, no cutting of anyone’s food but my own, no reminders of proper table manners, no fart jokes. Pure dining bliss, without the fat check and babysitting fee at the end. LOVE it!
Our most recent date night consisted of this:
Cajun Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo. *Swoon*
I’ve been in love with all things Alfredo since my very first bite of Michaelina’s frozen Fettuccine Alfredo in college. That was high livin’ college grub. But nothing compares to the real deal.
Food Dork Trivia: How did Fettuccine Alfredo get it’s name? Well, I’ll tell ya! Fettuccine Alfredo is named for Chef Alfredo di Lello who originated the pasta dish in the 1920′s. The dish typically consists of fettuccine enrobed in a rich cream sauce with butter, parmesan cheese, and lots of cracked black pepper.
My fettuccine Alfredo consists of fettuccine enrobed in a rich cream sauce with butter, 4 types of cheese, and about 4 times the usual amount of cheese. Because cheese is my life. Then just for fun, I work in cajun spiced chicken and tomatoes. Kind of kicks the whole arrangement up a few notches. I think Alfredo would approve.
Cajun Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
Good stuff going on here: boneless skinless chicken breasts, Cajun blackening spice, butter, olive oil, garlic cloves, grape tomatoes, dry white wine (or chicken broth,) heavy cream (or half-and-half,) good quality, freshly grated cheeses like a blend of Asiago, Parmesan, Fontina, and herbed goat cheese, spices.
Are you in, yet? Good!
Cook fettuccine according to the package directions for “al-dente.” Pour pasta into a large colander. Immediately rinse the pasta with hot tap water to rinse off some of the excess starch so that the pasta doesn’t turn into a sticky, clumpy mass. Drain.
Rinse the chicken breasts in cool water, and pat dry with a paper towel.
Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap onto a clean surface, and place a chicken breast on top.
Lay another large sheet of plastic wrap on top of the chicken breast, and gently pound and flatten to an even 1/4 inch thickness. I have found the most effective way to flatten a chicken breast without completely obliterating it is to start from the center of the thickest part, and pound while working outward.
Sprinkle a hefty amount of cajun seasoning on each side of the flattened chicken, pressing to adhere. I like Chef Paul Prudhomme’s brand of blackened steak seasoning. Don’t be shy with the cajun seasoning! It’s adds a nice punch flavor that helps cut through the richness the Alfredo sauce.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Also, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
The skillet is hot enough when the butter just begins to brown.
Place chicken in the pan and sear one side until it is very brown, about 3 minutes. I had 4 flattened chicken breasts, but only 3 would fit in my pan. That’s OK. I just worked in batches. If you need to do the same, and the pan seems dry before you are done, add a touch more olive oil and let it get hot.
Once the first side of the chicken is very brown, flip it over and cook the other side until very brown–about an addition 1 1/2 minutes. When the chicken has been seared on both sides, transfer it to a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes, or until chicken is done, and no longer pink in the middle.
Oh! Don’t forget to turn off the heat under the skillet when you are done with it.
Slice the chicken against the grain, into thin strips. I think the longer thin strips make for a more dramatic presentation.
But since we decided to share this decadent meal with our sons, I sliced the strips again cross-wise to make bite sized pieces. It’s not as dramatic, but it did save me from eating cold pasta because I spent so much time cutting up their chicken. Win-win.
Set the chicken aside.
Give the grape tomatoes a quick rinse, and slice them in half lengthwise. Set those aside while you chop the garlic.
My quick tip to mince garlic: peel the garlic and place a knife on top of the clove.
Hold the knife handle steady with your dominant hand. Then give the blade of the knife a quick whack with your other fist. Carefully now! Nothing ruins date night faster than a trip to the Emergency Room.
The garlic clove should be nice and flat. Smashing the garlic will also bruise it so that it can readily release its oils. Garlic oil is a very good thing.
Give the smashed garlic a quick chop. I end up running the knife across the smashed clove twice for a nice quick mince. Reheat the skillet over medium-high heat.
Pour in the white wine, and deglaze the pan by whisking all of the delicious brown bits off of the bottom of the pan. If wine is not your thing, or if you are like me and in your overzealous attempt to remove the cork you shattered off the top of the wine bottle, then chicken broth will do nicely.
Add the tomatoes, minced garlic, and salt & pepper to the pan. Stir and saute the mixture for a minute or two to lightly caramelize and soften. Smash the tomatoes a bit with the back of a wooden spoon.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, and pour in the cream. Give it a quick stir.
Then just for fun, add another tablespoon of butter. Continue to stir the cream mixture as it simmers for 3 to 4 minutes. The sauce will reduce slightly during this time.
Now it’s time for the best part…the cheese! Turn off the heat under the skillet, then add all of the cheeses to the pan. I like a cheese blend very similar to that used in my lasagna recipe–Asiago, parmesan, fontina, and herbed goat cheese.
The Asiago and parmesan are obvious choices for an Alfredo sauce, but I like the creaminess the fontina adds, and the complexity of the herbed goat cheese. You can go with my blend, or all parmesan, or parm & Asiago. Bottom line: use what you like, just be sure to use a full 2 cups of it. Stir the cheese into sauce until the cheese is completely melted and smooth.
For all that is good and right with the world, please, please, please grate your own cheese! Pre-shredded cheeses are coated with anti-caking agents such as cellulose or other things, which not only keep the cheese from clumping too much in the bag, it also hinders the cheese from melting smoothly in the sauce.
Voila! Alfredo sauce! Now if it were up to me, I’d rip off chunks and crusty bread and use it scoop up the sauce, and call it dinner. But since I was feeding others, I went the more traditional route.
Pour the cooked fettuccine into the Alfredo sauce.
Toss the chicken on top of the fettuccine. By now the soon-to-be-recipients of this deliciousness are hovering in the kitchen. Tell ‘em to shoo! We are almost done.
Use a pair of tongs to toss the pasta and chicken in the Alfredo sauce until everything is evenly distributed.
Woo! Done! It’s time to eat! Use the same thongs to fill pasta bowls, and serve it up with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and a hefty pinch of nutmeg. Yes, nutmeg. A nice tossed salad, and a glass of Pinot Grigio would be the ideal accompaniments. Cajun Chicken Alfredo is the perfect date night meal. It makes Hubby a very happy man.
But, I’m going to be honest with you. Your kitchen at the end of this meal will be completely trashed. Completely! As if a tornado went through with laser-like accuracy and targeted your cupboards. But don’t let that stop you–it’s totally worth it!
Because chances are, your well fed and happy spouse will clean up the mess for you. Bacon Slayer was so thrilled that he couldn’t wash dishes fast enough so that I didn’t have to do it! Which made me very happy, too.
Cajun Chicken Alfredo
Yields 6 Servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes, Cook Time: 30 Minutes, Total Time: 1 hour
4 small boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 ¼ lbs.)
1 ½ Tbs. Cajun blackening spice (like Paul Prudhomme’s brand)
2 Tbs. butter, divided
1 Tbs. olive oil (or more if needed)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 C. (1/2 pint) grape tomatoes, halved
¼ C. dry white wine (or chicken broth)
1 ½ C. heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1 ½ C. good quality, freshly grated Italian cheeses (I like a blend of Asiago, Parmesan, and Fontina.)
3 oz. herbed goat cheese, crumbled
1 tsp. kosher salt (or more, to taste)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (or more, to taste)
1 pound cooked fettuccini
Pinch of ground nutmeg, for serving
Chopped parsley, for serving
Rinse chicken breast in cool water, and pat dry. Pound each chicken breast flat with a flat meat mallet or rolling pin, between two sheets of plastic wrap. Set flattened breasts on a clean plate. Sprinkle a heavy amount of blackening spice on both sides of each chicken breast, pressing to adhere.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat 1 Tbs. of the butter, and the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, until butter begins to brown. Place chicken in the pan, and sear on one side, until it is very brown, about 3 minutes. Flip chicken and sear the other side until very brown, about another 1 ½ minutes. Work in batches so as not to crowd the pan.
Place browned chicken onto a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink inside. Remove chicken from the oven and thinly slice against the grain; set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions and begin cooking the sauce.
If the skillet looks dry, add a bit more olive oil. Re-heat the skillet over medium heat.
Pour in the dry white wine (or chicken broth) into the skillet to deglaze the pan—whisk all of the delicious brown bits off the bottom of the pan. (1-2 minutes)
Add the garlic and tomatoes to the pan and sauté to soften and lightly caramelize, stirring occasionally. (1-2 minutes)
Reduce heat to medium-low and pour the heavy cream to the pan with the tomato mixture, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the salt, pepper, and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Continue to stir the cream mixture while it simmers for 3-4 minutes. The cream will reduce slightly.
Remove from heat. Add the grated cheeses, and goat cheese to the cream sauce. Stir constantly until all the cheese has melted, and sauce is smooth. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings.
Pour the fettuccini onto the sauce, and top with the sliced chicken. Toss the pasta and chicken into the sauce with tongs, until well combined. Turn tossed pasta into a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with a pinch of nutmeg, and a bit of chopped parsley.