Given the long commute, a meal at The Cheesecake Factory is a rare treat for my family. But even you live closer, the wait is always long and it's not cheap - especially if you top off your meal with dessert. (Which is sort of the point of a restaurant with a dessert in its actual name. No cheesecake? Might as well go to Dairy Queen for a salad.) The last time my family ate there - with 2 adults, 2 kids and no alcohol - our bill was around $90, a bit steep if the budget is tight or anyone in the party is a cheapskate. Cough.
So when I see recipes that claim to be Cheesecake Factory knock-offs, I always take a look. This one, via The Piggly-Wiggly, sounded promising. Mounds of creamy, pasta-y, Cajun-y wonders? Sign me up!
Happily, it did not disappoint. It had just the right amount of flavor and a perfect touch of spice. The chicken was crispy on the outside, moist on the inside and the sauce was creamy perfection. Carb lovers rejoice! Amen.
A couple of recipe notes: I omitted the bell peppers. (Just a personal preference - I'm not a huge fan when they're cooked, except in fajitas.) I also cut up my chicken, as you can see in the photo below. It just makes it easier for the kiddos to eat if it's already bite size-ish. Be sure to use fresh basil instead of dried - it adds great flavor and freshness; I even sprinkled extra on top of the finished product. You could also use half-and-half instead of heavy cream if you want to lighten it up a little, but this is hardly a health-food recipe. (Unless you use the peppers...then maybe?) The original recipe calls for bow-tie pasta, but personally, I prefer to use fettuccine...there's just an added yum factor when you have to slurp up noodles, yes? And here's a wild and crazy idea...you could use shrimp instead of chicken. Just throwing that out there.
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow pepper, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
3/4 small onion, chopped
3 whole garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
4 Tbsp fresh basil (thinly sliced)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12-oz package pasta
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated)
1 cup milk
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
1. Melt butter and olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.
2. Add yellow and red bell peppers, and onion to same skillet, until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes.
3. Add garlic and crushed red pepper to skillet and sauté 3 minutes.
4. Add whipping cream and chicken stock.
5. Simmer until sauce re-heats and thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.
6. Add basil and Parmesan cheese to sauce, stirring to incorporate.
7. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, simmer; sauce will reduce and thicken as the chicken cooks.
8. Season chicken generously with creole seasoning. Heat oil in a large skillet.
9. Pound chicken until very thin (the thinner the chicken breasts, the better).
10. Mix breadcrumbs, flour, and Parmesan cheese together.
11. Place milk in dish for dipping.
12. Dip chicken in breadcrumb mixture, then in milk and then back in breadcrumbs.
13. Fry over medium high temperature until golden crisp and cooked through. Add more oil as needed.
14. Remove and drain chicken; keep warm.
15. Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
16. Drain and return to pot.
17. Add sauce and toss to coat.
18. Place pasta with sauce on plate, and top with chicken breast.
19. Serve, passing additional Parmesan separately.
While the recipe looks kind of lengthy, it's not complicated - the numbered steps make it look like more work than it really is, but it's very easy to follow.
This recipe is delicious - it's definitely going into the regular dinner rotation. It brings The Cheesecake Factory a little bit closer to home, without the cheesecake or the price tag...so you can go out for ice cream after dinner!
Rebecca Horvath is a wife, mom of three girls (ages 2 to 10) and writer from east Tennessee. She hasn't had an uninterrupted thought since 2002. Rebecca periodically blogs about her family's never-a-dull-moment life at http://rebeccatherambler.blogspot.com/