I have always hated cooking. I thought I was really bad at it. I recall once when I was an early teenager, both of my parents were sick with some sort of virus. I was hungry. I begged my mom, who was laying in bed under about eight layers of blankets, to make me some soup. With what little energy she had left she encouraged me to make my own soup. It wasn't going to be hard. All I needed to do was open the can, pour the contents into a pot on the stove, and turn on the burner. I assured her that I couldn't do it. In fact, I told her if I tried I would catch the stove on fire. She didn't budge. I bravely headed to the stove. I have no idea how it even happened but I soon found myself standing in front of the pot of condensed soup I was intending to heat up on the stove, and the stove was actually on fire. My dad was in the other room, still recovering from his strain of the illness. He must have heard the crackling of the flames and asked me if something was wrong. Completely calm I said, "The stove is on fire." Dad put it out. I ate cold soup.
I spent three of my four years in college living in an apartment, left to feed myself with no help of the cafeteria staff. I still couldn't cook. My first roommate and I had an agreement. One did the cooking and the other did the dishes. It should be no surprise that I was the dish doer. I never caught the stove on fire but somewhere during those three years I did figure out how to make spaghetti. My senior year in college, my dinner was either oatmeal or microwave popcorn. (For lunch everyday I had a peanut butter sandwich. Let me tell you, I was one healthy girl!)
Off I went with my degree into the great big world. However, a degree in biology still didn't give me anymore information on how to cook. I lived alone for awhile and although there were times when I thought I might actually try to cook a real meal, I saw little point in it. All that work just for me? Not really worth it. Typical dinners at that point became a jar of green beans or some cous cous. Several of my friends thought I was a vegetarian because I never had meat in my house. I just never bought it because I had no desire to cook it. It took too long to cook and therefore was a hideous waste of time.
Then I got married and became all domesticated. Not only did I figure out how to do laundry (only shrinking things on rare occasions now!) but I also learned how to cook. I really don't know how I picked up cooking skills. Sure, I have watched my mom cook growing up but I never really paid any attention. There have definitely been times when I have had to call my mom or a friend and ask really simple cooking questions that made me feel ridiculously idiotic. Mostly though, I just follow recipes. Perhaps I was trying to impress my new husband or perhaps I was just tired of popcorn but all of a sudden, I found myself inspired. Greg has helped my desire to cook by letting out loud "yums" when he takes a bite of my latest concoction. And so I became a cook.
I cook almost every night. When I say I cook, I mean I make things from scratch. There are definitely times we have frozen pizza or some sort of meal that you just take from a bag and toss it in the skillet, but for the most part, I cook. Now that I have a couple of kids under my feet all day long, I have been finding even more enjoyment in cooking. It is my time. It is almost like meditation as I chop and stir and saute. It is Greg's job to entertain the kids while I get the opportunity each day for a few minutes to get lost in my thoughts as I spin my spice rack around looking for the rosemary. (I actually just started a little windowsill spice garden but haven't been able to harvest it yet.) I don't even feel the least bit guilty that I am taking a break from my kids because I am hard at work providing nutritious meals for my family!
The other night I made Cajun Chicken and Shrimp Lasagna. This recipe was originally suggested to me by Cara
, although I don't have a clue now where she got the recipe. (By the way, Cara gave birth to a 10 lb 3 oz baby boy yesterday! Congrats!!) The original recipe uses sausage instead of chicken but since I am not a fan of sausage and I am now a seasoned chef, I made a substitution. I have made this recipe a few times now too so I have even altered the original recipe a bit in other places as well.
The recipe is posted at the bottom of this blog or you can find it in our cookbook
which is still for sale. (The recipe below has a few updates that aren't in the cookbook version.)
I doubled the recipe this time around and froze the spare lasagna so here in a few weeks when I don't have the energy to cook, we can have more fabulous lasagna. Making two of these puppies took quite a lot of work, as well as all my really big pots. I even had to call in Greg to chop up some veggies because my chopping muscles were getting tired. The results were quite yummy though!
Putting the layers together!
The mess! (I used the "light" Ragu Alfredo sauce in an attempt not to go into cardiac arrest from eating one bite of this delicious dinner.)
Eating the results!
Cajun Chicken and Shrimp Lasagna
12 dried lasagna noodles
1 lb cooked shrimp, tail off, chopped
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into ¾-in cubes
2-3 tsp Cajun seasoning
1 tsp dried sage, crushed
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped green sweet pepper
1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
3 (10 oz) containers refrigerated light Alfredo sauce
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Nonstick cooking spray
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook noodles according to pkg directions. Drain and rinse. Combine shrimp, chicken, Cajun seasoning, and sage. In a large nonstick skillet cook meat mixture 8 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Remove from skillet using a slotted spoon, reserving drippings in skillet. Set met aside. Keep drippings warm. In same skillet cook onion, celery, sweet pepper, and garlic in drippings until vegetables are tender. Stir in meat mixture, two containers of the Alfredo sauce, and Parmesan cheese. Lightly coat a 3-qt rectangular baking dish with nonstick spray. Place just enough of the meat-vegetable mixture on the bottom of the baking dish to cover. Arrange 4 noodles in bottom of dish. Spread meat-vegetable mixture, Sprinkle with ½ cup of the mozzarella. Repeat layers, ending with noodles. Carefully spread remaining Alfredo sauce over the top (if sauce is too think, heat slightly). Sprinkle top of lasagna with cajun seasoning to add color. Cover. Bake 1 hour or until heated through. Let stand 15-20 minutes before carefully cutting. (Serves 8-12)