This is a great weeknight dinner option. It's creamy, filling, packed with veggies, and the best part is you can just throw everything in the slow cooker and forget about it. Using squares of puff pastry baked separately keeps it easy and worry free. Plus - you don't have to worry about the pastry getting soggy when reheated because you just bake it as needed.
I, like most people out there, do not make gourmet meals every day. In fact, a lot of the time I cook what's affordable, easy, and comforting. I have a collection of recipes that foodies may snub because they are old fashioned - like casseroles - or use pre-packaged ingredients. I am not ashamed of these things because, hey, sometimes it's hard to get food on the table. So here are some recipes that I can depend on to save me when I am low on time, money, and energy.
Beefy Noodle Bake
This is a great recipe for getting rid of leftover produce, frozen veg, and canned goods. You can easily adapt it to use whatever you have on hand. I discovered it in a Taste of Home casserole booklet.
When I don't plan ahead for a week of meals, it can get a bit random and haphazard in the kitchen. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Here is a sampling of what I threw together recently during a hectic week.
Sandwiches don't have to be boring, I threw together a gourmet panini with ingredients that I happened to have hanging around already: turkey, arugula, fig jam, and taleggio cheese. The pungent cheese, rich and sweet jam, and spicy arugula are perfect for turning turkey into something special.
I revisited a recipe that I demoed in a technique class at Williams Sonoma back in February. This Peruvian dish, called Aji de Gallina, uses aji pepper paste for flavor (but not necessarily for spice) and evaporated milk and ground walnuts for creaminess and texture. The original recipe (which you can find here) called for poaching a whole chicken. Instead, I used rotisserie chicken from the store to save me time and effort and it worked just as well. I actually had leftover steamed rice from PF Changs on hand, so I re-steamed it in the microwave (sprinkle water over the rice and cover with a damp paper towel) and served it with the chicken. Using those shortcuts made it easy to put this hearty dish together on a weeknight. I also added a soft-boiled egg (a traditional addition to the dish), but decided I would have liked it closer to a medium boil - the flavor of the raw yolk got lost and overpowered by the flavor of the aji paste.
Ramen noodles may not seem like anything special, but you can definitely add ingredients to make them more exciting. I love to poach an egg in the soup (you can see one peeking out in the left side of the bowl in the photo) and top it off with scallions. Using less water and topping the noodles with breaded chicken or pork is another great option.
Lastly, I made some brisket. Smoking a brisket can be quite a process, but there is definitely an easier way to cook it. I just throw it in my slow cooker with some starter sauce and onions and leave it alone all day! The brisket comes out tender and the braised onions are ridiculously good. I served it up with some mashed potatoes and steamed green beans topped with butter and lemon juice. Let me tell you, after all those vegetable heavy meals over the summer, Jasper was so happy to get some meat and potatoes!
This was our last week of the CSA - I'm sad that it is over, but at the same time it's nice to have a break from the constant rush to cook and eat all that produce before it goes bad each week. I'm glad we did it this way for our first time, it really pushed me out of my cooking comfort zone and forced me to use ingredients that I wouldn't normally buy. I'm really grateful for the learning experience, but next year I think we will do a half-share.
I literally dreamed about making this right after we got back from Vegas. I woke up and decided I had better make it for dinner since my subconscious was telling me to.
Simple. Easy. Tasty.
This is seriously one of our favorite dishes. It is easy to make and it is SO GOOD.
The most important part is the sauce:
It is very important to get the right chicken. This is my absolute favorite (from Bell & Evans), which is available at Whole Foods Market.
Chicken with Peanut Sauce
adapted from Real Simple
2 servings frozen breaded chicken breasts
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
Cook the chicken according to the package directions.
In a bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, sugar, and ginger until smooth. Slice the chicken and serve with coconut rice* and peanut sauce.
*replace up to 1/2 water with coconut milk when cooking rice.
I was watching The Food Network - my favorite channel - when I saw Rachel Ray make this dish. It looked so good that I made it the next day! It is a healthier version than the traditional battered-and-fried, dripping with cheese version. The pepper had a lovely charred, roasted flavor and the rice was vibrant and herbaceous. I don't like spicy food or cilantro so I made a few adjustments (bell peppers instead of poblanos, no jalapenos, parsley instead of cilantro), and it came out wonderfully. I also replaced 1 cup of corn from her vegetarian version with a cup of shredded chicken. You can certainly switch that back to make it vegetarian again.
Charred "Chili Relleno" with Green Rice
adapted from The Food Network
Time: 30 min Serves: 4
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, divided
1 bay leaf
2 cups white rice
4 large green bell peppers
2 cups frozen corn kernels
3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes, drained well (use fire-roasted if you can find them)
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken **see below
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/2 lb spinach leaves, deveined and coarsely chopped
4 scallions, coarsely chopped
2 limes, zested and juiced
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Preheat broiler or grill pan to high. Place peppers under broiler or on hot grill and char evenly all over, 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 3 1/2 cups of the stock in a sauce pot with a bay leaf to boiling. Add rice, cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer 18 minutes or until tender. Place the parsley, spinach, scallions, lime zest, 1/2 cup of stock and a tbsp of oil in a food processor and process into a coarse green paste. Stir the paste into the rice during the last 3 to 4 minutes of its cooking time.
Meanwhile, defrost corn and dry by spreading out on clean kitchen towel. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a skillet over high heat. When the oil smokes or ripples add corn and onion and toss until the vegetables char at edges and onions are tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high and add in garlic, tomatoes, and chicken and season with cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook another 2 minutes, remove from heat. Sprinkle the lime juice over the corn mixture.
Split the charred peppers open (but not in half) and scoop out the seeds. Place peppers in a shallow baking dish and stuff each split pepper with lots of the corn mixture, top each pepper with 1/4 cup cheese and place back under the broiler to melt and char the cheese.
Serve the peppers with a big pile of the rice.
**Cooked, shredded chicken is a staple ingredient for me. I always have it around, whether from a rotisserie chicken or poached breasts. I can throw it into any number of dishes to round them out. My favorite method is to poach chicken breasts, then freeze them - thawing and shredding or chopping them when I need to. Below is the method I use to ensure they turn out flavorful and moist.
Place chicken breasts into a large stock pot or dutch oven. Pour in enough chicken stock to cover. Add a couple sprigs of thyme, 2 bay leaves, a few pepper corns, some salt, some halved onions, and roughly chopped celery and carrots. Bring to a boil over high. As soon as it boils, reduce the heat so that it is barely simmering. Simmer for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the chicken sit in the hot liquid for another 15 minutes. Check one breast to make sure it is cooked through. Remove from the liquid, allow to cool completely, then use immediately or freeze.
Occasionally I teach technique classes at Williams-Sonoma - here are some of the best recipes from the past 2 classes.
Latin Cooking - Shredded Chicken in Pepper Sauce
Aji de Gallina
1 chicken, 4-6 lb; or 4 bone-in, skin on chicken breast halves, 2 lb total
8 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lg red onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp aji amarillo paste**
1/4 cup aji panca paste**
1 (10oz) can evaporated milk
1 cup shredded queso blanco or farmer's cheese
8 saltine crackers
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup ground walnuts
Place the chicken in a soup pot, pour in the stock, bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to med-lo and simmer, partially covered, until chicken is tender and opaque throughout, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let cool. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Discard the skin and bones of the chicken, shred and set aside.
In a saucepan over med-lo, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and aji pastes** and cook until fragrant, about 1 min.
Meanwhile in a blender or food processor, combine reserved cooking liquid with evaporated milk, cheese, crackers, and salt. Process until smooth. Transfer to pan with onions and cook until slightly thickened, about 10 min. Add the chicken and ground walnuts and cook 2-3 min more. Serve with cooked rice and walnut halves.
**aji pastes are Peruvian chili pastes that we sell at WS. The amounts called for do not make the dish spicy AT ALL. If you prefer a spicier dish, add more aji amarillo.
I would like to try this recipe with a shredded rotisserie chicken (using a cup of stock for the "cooking liquid") to cut down on prep time. I would also like to serve it with a soft boiled egg, as is traditional, and maybe double the sauce recipe.
Indian Cooking - Kheer (Rice Pudding)
4 cups milk
4 cups light cream
1/2 cup basmati rice, thoroughly rinsed
3/4 cup light brown sugar
4 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed; or 2/3 tsp ground
1/2 tsp saffron threads, crushed
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup sliced almonds
In a large pan, bring milk and cream to boil, stirring frequently. Add the rice, reduce to med-lo and cook until reduced to the consistency of custard and the rice is soft and creamy, about 50 min. Add the brown sugar and stir well. Add the cardamom, saffron, raisins, and almonds. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate until chilled.
**This pudding has such a wonderful, delicate flavor. I would love to add a splash of rose water.