Friday, May 6, 2011

Italian Lentil Soup

This recipe originally came from my great-grandmother, who brought it from Italy.  My grandmother used to serve this as a first course at Thanksgiving dinner.  I have modified the recipe a little over the years, but it is still a favorite in my family.  It is a super fast meal idea for a quick, hearty dinner.  (Vegetarian recipe)

1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbs olive oil
6 cups water
2 – 3 vegetarian bouillon cubes (Knorr, if possible)
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 cup brown lentils
2 cups fresh, chopped spinach or 1 package frozen chopped spinach
1 cup orzo pasta
Fresh ground pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, sauté sliced onion and garlic in olive oil until they just start to brown.  Add water, bouillon and Worcestershire sauce to pot.  Bring to a boil and lower to simmer.

Add the lentils to the pot and stir well.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Add spinach and orzo to pot and cook for 25 minutes or until orzo is al dente.

Serve with crusty French bread.  You can also sprinkle with fresh parmesan cheese for a wonderful flavor addition.

NOTE:  If you make a pot of this soup and refrigerate it overnight, it will thicken up substantially and be almost ‘stew-like’ in consistency.  I like to take leftovers of this soup for lunch.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Time Saving Meal Management Series - Post #1

I am often asked how I can regularly put a home cooked meal on the table despite a busy schedule, job, children, horses and all the rest.  I am going to start a series here that I will publish once a week or so to give some tips and time savers that help to keep me sane (relatively) and my family healthy and well fed.  You can feel free to employ some - or all - of these tips if they sound like they will help you.

One of the greatest inventions for busy Moms is the pre-roasted chicken available at the grocery store.  These chickens aren't just a good meal idea in and of themselves, but they are an essential item in my freezer.  I buy a couple of these at a time from Costco.  (I buy them at Costco because in my area, they are the biggest and meatiest available for the price ~ 3 lbs for $4.99.  Truthfully, I can't make them myself for that price.)

Once I get them home, I will strip the meat off the bones, cut it into smaller, uniform pieces and put it in freezer bags (I have a 'Meal Saver' system and I vacuum seal the meat, but you can use Ziploc freezer bags just as easily) in amounts of 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 pounds.  That is usually the amount of meat I use in a recipe for my family - with some left over for weekday lunches for me (I brown bag daily)  So, from 2 chickens, I will typically get 5 meals of cooked chicken meat.

Another item to keep or use can be really good chicken stock.  If you have a deep freezer and can store the broth, I suggest you use the bones, an onion, about 5 celery stalks and some pepper and boil, then simmer the carcasses for  30 minutes.  Cool the broth and freeze in usable amounts. (I like to freeze it in amounts of 1 cup)

That's great, you say - but what do you do with the chicken then?  Below are just some ideas for quick dinners with pre-cooked chicken meat.  I've included one recipe and will have others online that use cooked chicken in the coming weeks.  When you want to use the chicken, simply put the frozen bag in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 3 minutes to defrost.  It will now be ready to put into your recipe.

Recipe Ideas:
Chicken Spaghetti
Quick Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Enchiladas
Chicken Tacos
Baked Chicken Burritos
30-Minute Chicken Chili
Chicken Enchilada Casserole
Chicken & Pepper Pasta
Chicken and Broccoli
Stuffed Chicken Bake
Busy Mom's Chicken Parmesan Bake
Chicken a la King

Chicken a La King

This is a wonderful and easy meal.  It can be dressed up with dinner rolls and a nice dessert for company or make a nice weeknight meal for your family.  I know some will want to omit the sherry for various reasons, but I recommend using it as the classic flavor is pulled together by that ingredient.  If you have children, fear not - the alcohol will cook off before serving. 

3 Tbs butter
1 chopped onion
1 chopped green Bell pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
3 Tbs flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
1 small jar diced pimentos
1 tsp ground nutmeg
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1 ¼ – 1 ½ lbs cooked, chopped chicken
2 Tbs cooking sherry (optional)

Melt the butter and sauté onion, pepper and garlic until they begin to soften. Add mushrooms and cook until tender stirring often.

Quickly stir in the flour to form a roux (you must keep stirring this so it does not burn or get lumpy). Once the butter and flour mixture is smooth (this will be quick) pour in the chicken stock and milk and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer.

Keep stirring until sauce thickens (if sauce is too thick, add a bit of broth or milk). Add the pimentos, nutmeg, pepper and cooked chicken (and sherry if you are using). Heat through before serving.

Serve over spaghetti or beside mashed potatoes and a vegetable – my favorite is steamed baby peas.  A butter lettuce salad is also an excellent addition to the meal.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Chicken Cassoulet

My family loves this hearty chicken “stew”.  This is a quicker version of the classic French dish.  The wine adds just the right amount of flavor.  It is a wonderful meal to come home to especially on a cold, wet winter evening.  It is great served with fresh French bread and a green salad.

• 1 14 oz can great northern beans
• 2-1/2 to 3 pounds meaty chicken pieces (breasts, thighs, and/or drumsticks – I use boneless thighs)
• 8 ounces cooked Polish sausage
• 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 teaspoon instant beef or chicken bouillon granules
• 1 cup white wine
• 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
• 1/2 teaspoon paprika
• 1/2 cup chopped carrot
• 1/2 cup chopped celery
• 1/2 cup chopped onion

1. Skin the chicken; set aside. Halve sausage lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces. In a medium mixing bowl combine drained beans, sausage, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon granules, wine, basil, oregano, and paprika. Set aside.
2. In a 3-1/2- or 4-quart crockery cooker combine the carrot, celery, and onion. Place chicken pieces on top. Pour bean mixture over chicken.
3. Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 9 to 11 hours or on high-heat setting for 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours. Remove chicken and sausage with slotted spoon. Mash bean mixture slightly. Serve chicken, sausage, and beans in soup bowls. Makes 6 servings.