Saturday, October 5, 2013

Good-Bye Frozen Chicken Blues!: Two Ways

I think every household has those few grocery items that no matter what, they always have on hand. Not necessarily "staples" but more what I like to think of as "even if I need to go to the grocery store, I still have ________" items. A few of those things at our house are frozen veggies, canned soup, shredded cheese, and frozen chicken breasts. I always opt for easy recipes, as they just work better with our busy lifestyle, but there are certain points where I'm certain that my family is tiring of plain baked chicken and steamed veggies. So in my attempt to jazz things up a little without foregoing that "ease factor" that is near and dear to my heart, here's a couple recipes I've come up with:

Creamy Crock Pot Shredded Chicken
(This recipe may just make my short list of go-to family pleasers)

Last weekend, we had planned to go pumpkin and apple picking, and I was in an exceptionally Fall mood which will always make me immediately want to bring out the crock pot. Might I add, my crock pot is one of my best friends - all the slow-cooked homemade goodness without spending hours in the kitchen. This particular day also happened to be a day where I was in desperate need of a grocery store run. So naturally, instead of running to the store with two fired up children, I searched for what we already had. I found a couple cans of soup, frozen chicken, and frozen veggies (those always-on-hand items I mentioned).

I thought for a minute, threw them all in the crock pot, and headed off to the pumpkin patch, all the while praying that something amazing would magically turn up in my crock pot when we returned home...

And wouldn't you know, while we were gone happily picking pumpkins and about a ton of apples, those little crock pot elves showed up and made something wonderful for dinner. This turned out so wonderful in fact, my kids each ate two whole bowls (the same children who would usually much rather play than sit and eat dinner), and then asked for the same thing the next night. I'll take it.

To make, you'll need:
5 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts (frozen is absolutely fine. I know, no thawing, isn't it wonderful??)
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 can condensed Lentil soup
1 can Cream of Chicken soup
1-2 cups frozen chopped veggies (I used peas and carrots)
3/4 cup water
8 oz cream cheese (1 regular block package)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Rub the inside of your crock pot with olive oil. Place chicken breasts in bottom of crock pot and drizzle the rest of the olive oil on top. Sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper. Add both cans of soup, frozen veggies, and water. Stir a little to mix ingredients. Set your crock pot, cover, and let it cook (Really, it takes 5 minutes to prepare).
Allow to cook on High for 3-4 hours, or Low for 6-7 hours.

Different crock pots, or depending on the size of your chicken, the time may vary slightly. You'll know the chicken is done when you can shred it easily with a fork...which is your next step. Using two forks to pull apart chicken, shred the chicken in the crock pot. Once chicken is shredded, add the cream cheese right on top (don't stir), cover and allow to cook on low for another 30-40 minutes. After 30-40 minutes, the cream cheese should be soft, and when you stir it, everything should come together.

Stir well, and serve over rice.


For frozen chicken recipe #2, my focus was more about flavor and add-ons and it uses a traditional oven rather than the crock pot.

Italian Cheesy-Tomato Chicken

What you'll need:
5 frozen bonesless, skinless chicken breasts
1 packet of Italian dressing/seasoning (dry)
1 Tablespoon dried or fresh chopped Oregano
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 extra large tomato, cut into 1/4 inch slices
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 cups shredded cheese (an Italian cheese is best, but whatever your preference is will work)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub a glass baking dish with 1 Tablespoon olive oil (enough to cover the bottom and prevent chicken from sticking).
Rub frozen chicken with dry Italian seasoning, covering the top and bottom in a thin layer. If your chicken breasts are on the larger side, you may need two packets to give them a good covering. Place chicken in dish, and layer tomato slices across the top. Drizzle remaining 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil on top, and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Cover chicken and tomatoes with an even layer of shredded cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes (until chicken is done. Juice will be clear when poked with a fork). Remove foil, and bake for 5 minutes more.
Serve with steamed veggies or over pasta.


Hopefully these will help to jazz up your regular dinner routine if you're in a rut, and maybe make it to your short-list of easy-pleasy dinner recipes.

What are your favorite, easy ways to mix-it-up at dinner time??


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Eat Your Greens: Crave-able Broccoli

I love broccoli. So do my kids (thank goodness). But even when you love it, plain steamed broccoli every night can get a little bit dull. And it's especially boring (though convenient) if you microwave it thanks to today's modern steam-in bags, or even in a pot. This way is a little more delicious, it's easy, plus it makes you feel like you REALLY know how to work in a kitchen ;)

This recipe is adapted from a Rachael Ray recipe I saw on her show years ago, as I sat at a cafe table in a student lounge as a fourth year college student. Tired and hungry, as I was pregnant with my eldest, I made sure I made good mental notes as I watched. I went home that evening and tried it out. I would have ate the entire thing myself probably had my husband not been there. Over the years I've tweaked it slightly but the basic recipe is still a favorite around here.

You'll need:
1 large head of fresh broccoli
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3-4 cloves minced garlic (1 1/2-2 teaspoons if you chose the pre-minced variety)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Wash and cut broccoli into 1/4-1/2 inch (at the stem) pieces - I always cut the bottom inch to two inches of the stem off as they tend to be dry and a bit tough to chew. Coat broccoli (I use my hands for this part), leaf to stem, with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of your olive oil. Rub minced garlic over broccoli (again, I use my hands), focusing mostly on the leafy part, but making sure to get some on the stems as well. I always use more garlic rather than less, but if you prefer, use less. Don't be fooled by the strong smell, it doesn't taste nearly as strong on the broccoli as it smells. Place broccoli on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake in oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 30-35 minutes, or until leaves start to brown around the edges.

This broccoli turns out slightly crunchy on the tops with a much richer flavor than traditional steamed broccoli.

What variations do you make to traditional favorites to add some spice to your home-cooking??

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Left-over Fried Rice

This is a great recipe.

It's been a go-to for my husband and I for the past 7 and a half years since we've lived together. We actually sort-of threw it together one night trying to use up left-overs and it turned out great so we've been making it ever since. I hate to throw out food, it's just too wasteful. As cheesy as it sounds, there are hungry children in this country and all over the world, and to me, it's just frivolous of us to throw away the blessing that is the ability to put food on the table for our children every day.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted that she was looking for a good fried rice recipe, and it struck me...I wanted to respond back "I have one!" but I hadn't actually written it down yet. At that moment, I was a little perplexed with my decision (or indecision) to not have officially shared this recipe yet since it really is a staple in our house's dinner roster. It's QUICK, uses left-overs, and has tons of veggies (if you chose to add them).

The thing about this recipe, is that you'll most likely be making it with left-overs, so the amount of veggies and rice really depends on what you have "left-over." Often times we'll make something like chicken, rice, and mixed veggies, so the next night we'll use them up together in this fried rice. Of course, you can always make it fresh without using leftovers so I'll give you the best measurements I can for it. Please note: It does work best with left-over rice, so if you are planning on making it fresh, try making the rice earlier in the day and then refrigerating it until it's time to make the dish (the idea is cold and slightly dry, as opposed to super-sticky fresh rice).

You'll need:
Approximately 4 Cups cooked rice
Approximately 2-3 Cups cooked mixed veggies (or the frozen bag mix. They will just need to cook a little longer)
2 Tablespoons Sesame Oil (you can just as well use Extra Virgin Olive Oil if Sesame Oil isn't something you usually have lying around)
About 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce (or to taste. If you like extra, go ahead and use more. If you aren't a fan, try a little less)
2-3 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds

Put the Sesame (or EVOO) Oil in a LARGE, high-sided skillet and allow to get hot over medium-high heat. Add your veggies and saute for a few minutes (3 minutes for cooked veggies. 5-7 minutes or until hot for frozen). At this point I add my sesame seeds. I like mine with a little extra nutty flavor, so cooking them in the oil first brings that out. Cook for another minute or two. A lot of recipes call for egg at this point. I think it's too much hassle for hardly any flavor but you can always add egg (beat, then scramble with your veggies until cooked before moving to next step).

Then go ahead and add your rice right on top.

Add soy sauce and stir, stir, stir.

Allow all ingredients to simmer, stirring often with a spatula or flat spoon often so all sides of the mixture get a turn on the hot pan.

Serve by itself, or top with grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp.

I always add an extra sprinkle of sesame seeds on top of mine :)

Dinner in less than 20 minutes and it's way better than take-out.