Cheater Chicken Florentine Pasta Bake

Every week I find time to do something new in my kitchen.

 Chicken Florentine

It is the chance to catch my breath, be creative and find my happy. Growing up I was so blessed to have time being creative with my mom, making 4-H projects, working with my sheep projects, drill team performances, playing music, and swimming. In college, I found rejuvenation with my clubs, walking at Leed Rec Center, cooking for international student meetings at Memorial Lutheran, as a part of the 3 K's and doing random landscaping jobs for money around Ames.  

As an adult, I still find my joy with the 3K's when we can get together. I've learned to treasure my garden and yard time. Reading to the Minis and being at the farm with them. While I was adjunct teaching I loved seeing students ask questions to learn and figure out what they knew and didn't know. I loved learning along side them, too. I'm not teaching right now and I'm in a holding pattern on my graduate school classes and that is a huge joy sucker for me. The garden is frozen too, so I can't go out and yank on weeds to deal with my frustrations right now either. I'm finding I have to be intentional about searching for and seeing the instruments that can create joy. Being intentional about joy can be a lot of work.

My kitchen is my primary source of space where I can let go of the unknowns I face and be creative or even just copy what I know works to master a new technique. I find a sense of peace, when my hands are sticky with dough or I'm working on a crust dusted with flour and visible chunks of butter or lard that will become layers of flakiness and adjusting it into a pan.  I can imagine comfort and love filling the pans as the ingredients come together in a dish.

When I cook, I'm able to give to others without them even knowing what I'm giving... prayers, a meal to physically sustain them when I have little emotionally to give or have no words to uplift, a sense of celebration when something good has happened, a snack when I am not there to welcome them home after school or while they work. My kitchen gives me peace and a way to serve others. The food is the implement that takes me from harried to happy, if even for just a little while.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pie and bread orders to keep me occupied and paid while I’ve been in my happy place.  This weekend, I didn’t have any orders and I decided to put together a new pasta bake. 

I had a great grilled Chicken Florentine Wrap at our local bakery café when I was out for a lunch with a friend who has been part of my life since I moved to the Farmer's home turf.  I decided that I wanted to translate that sandwich into a hot dish.  It was hot, melty bliss with a thought of healthy protein and spinach.  It was the sandwich version of mouth candy.  Thanks Heavenly’s for that inspiration.

So this is what I made at home…

Cheater Chicken Florentine Pasta Bake

The groceries:

4 Boneless Skinless Chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked to al dente

1 large bag fresh spinach

2 jars Lite Ragu Alfredo Sauce

2 C milk or 1/2 n 1/2

2 C shredded Mozzarella cheese

¼ t Ground Black pepper



The Process:

Cook the pasta and place ½ the spinach in the bottom of the colander when you drain the hot pasta.  Place in a large bowl with the rest of the spinach and toss together.  Pour in the Alfredo, 1 ½ C shredded cheese, pepper and milk.  Stir in raw chicken and pour into a well-greased casserole.  Cover with tin foil and place in a 350 degree oven for 60 – 70 minutes.  Take lid off and sprinkle rest of cheese across the top and let get melty.  Serve with a huge salad.  

This recipe will easily cut in half for smaller families and I think can handle even more spinach than what I put in it. I’ll probably double the amount of spinach next time, but I really like spinach…Not everyone does. I would not recommend putting this in the freezer with uncooked chicken, warm pasta and spinach and cream sauce. That could turn into a whole bacterial thing you don’t want to deal with.  

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