The Hail Mary Dinner

 

The “Hail Mary” Dinner. You know the one I speak of.

When you get home from your kids’ activities at 6:30pm and realize you don’t really have the time or the ingredients to make a substantial dinner.

I used to feel so smug because when everyone else was posting and complaining about Mondays, I was this stay-at-home / work-at-home mom and Monday was just another day for me. But now all 3 of our kids have dance on Monday nights which means our Monday afternoon schedule looks like this:
2:30pm – Get B&C changed into dance clothes, double-check A’s bag to ensure she has everything she needs; pack snacks for everyone and water or coffee for myself.
3:00pm – Leave and pick up A from school
3:30pm – Arrive at dance studio and help A change; do her hair up in a bun
4:00pm – A’s Tap & Jazz class; C usually naps so B & I sit in the car for awhile
4:30pm – Go inside and have snack
5:00pm – A has Ballet; B&C have Pre-Ballet; I work, read, or chat with parents
5:45pm – B&C finish class; go downstairs & get everyone into outdoor clothes; possibly read a book; collect all bags and miscellaneous STUFF
6:00pm – A finishes class & changes; we all head out to car
6:25pm – Arrive at home; make & eat dinner; homework
7:15pm – Start bedtime routine
7:30pm – Tuck-in Time
8:00pm – BED! A will sometimes stay up to read quietly in bed until 8:30

You can see why it takes ALL MY ENERGY to get through Monday afternoons. This past Monday I used some peppermint & wild orange oil aromatically and it actually gave me an energy boost better than the coffee ever does. (Yes, there’s an oil for that!!)

Which brings me to… The Hail Mary Dinner I whipped up yesterday.

I opened up the cabinets & fridge to see….
Nothing.
Nada.
Zip.
Zilch.
…at least that would be quick and nutritious.

But what did I have?!? Some egg noodles, some leftover chicken, some leftover veggies, and a cookbook. I figured I could whip up a simple sauce/gravy and throw all the stuff together. Kind of a deconstructed casserole, if you will. Sure, we’ll go with that.

So I got the water going for the noodles, pulled out my Betty Crocker cookbook, and opened it to the Sauces section. “Basic White Sauce.” PERFECT! Here’s how to make it:
In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter.
Add 2 tablespoons flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined and the lumps are gone.
Gradually add 1 1/2 cups milk, stirring all the while.
Season with salt & pepper, and heat over medium high heat until it starts bubbling.
Continue cooking until sauce thickens.
Because it was so bland, I added some garlic and onion powder to taste.

While the sauce thickened, I reheated and cut up the chicken into bite size pieces, and reheated the leftover veggies in the microwave. I cooked the noodles and added a pat or two of butter, stirring until melted & mixed.

I added the chicken into the sauce.
I spooned the noodles into bowls.
I sprinkled some veggies over the noodles.
I scooped the chicken sauce over the noodles, and….
BAM! DINNER!

 

HailMary dinner

It was actually pretty good! Thankfully, the chicken was well-seasoned, so when I mixed it with the bland sauce, it was perfect. The kids gobbled it right up. To be fair, they probably would’ve eaten anything at that point, since they were so hungry.

Regardless, it boosted my confidence that I could create a real meal in a pinch without too much trouble. (PS. Leftovers make an excellent lunch the next day.)

HAIL MARY

 

When have you made a delicious dinner in a pinch? What did you make?

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Semi-Chilaquiles – Second Meal Brunch (Chicken tacos)

This is a Second Meal using leftovers from Chicken tacos It Was inspired by a traditional Mexican dish, chilaquiles. While I didn’t have all the traditional ingredients, I decided to do what I do, and make my own version with my OHI. .

After I made chicken tacos in the crock pot, I had a bunch of meat leftover and was trying to think of another, different way to use it. I was having a late breakfast – kind of a brunch – that day, so I came up with this. It was really really good, lots of protein (so it’s filling), and not too bad for you either since the chicken taco meat is all homemade using no preservatives.

So here’s what I did!

First reheat some of that chicken – until it’s warm, but not steaming hot.
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Next add a little shredded cheddar cheese and one slice of Provolone.
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Before you put the cheese on, move the meat over... you need to leave room for another ingredient!


Heat for another minute or so in the microwave (or I suppose you could do it in a pan or on a griddle also) until cheese is melted.
Now add some homemade guacamole to your plate (which you also have leftover from your taco meal!).
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Meanwhile, cook two overeasy eggs. When they’re finished place them atop the cheese and chicken taco meat.
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And that’s it! Now eat and enjoy!
I’m telling you… it’s really good!

Happy cooking!

Rustic “FrItalian” Chicken Thighs and Potatoes

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So, I had these boneless skinless chicken thighs defrosted in my fridge but no real plan for making them. Then all of a sudden it was 3:45, and time to start dinner. I planned on just doing them plain, but at the last minute decided to add some Italian seasonings. And another couple of spontaneous ingredients at the end.
Well, it turned out perfectly cooked, deliciously seasoned, tender and juicy. It reminded me for some reason of a traditional French type dish by Julia Child (although I’m SURE she’d have used butter, and I used oil). So that’s why I’m calling it “FrItalian”… French inspired, with Italian seasonings!

So here’s what I did! This whole meal came together in less than 45 minutes.

Heat a large pan and a large saucepan with a lid over medium heat (2 pans total). The one without a lid is for the chicken.  The one with a lid is for the potatoes. In the pan for chicken, drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  In the other pan (with lid), about a tablespoon of canola oil. When the pan without a lid is hot, add the boneless skinless chicken thighs, right side up. Season with Kosher Salt, Italian Seasonings, and a bit of garlic powder.

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Now leave that chicken alone while you cut up your potatoes. White potatoes are best. Baking potatoes are fine, just be sure to cut them small enough that they cook in time. I used 5 or 6 small potatoes and cut them lengthwise in thirds, then each of those in half lengthwise, then sliced all of those crosswise to make small chunks (kind of like breakfast potatoes). Now put them in a large glass or mixing bowl and season with about a Tablespoon each of Kosher Salt, Paprika, and Garlic powder; about a teaspoon each of Rosemary & Thyme. Toss to coat, then dump carefully into your sizzling hot skillet. Give them a minute or two to form a bit of a crust, then toss a little and put the lid on and let steam.

Now check on the chicken.  As soon as it’s looking golden brown on the side that’s down, flip it over so the seasoned side is down. Then let cook for awhile until the other side has a nice brown crust.

Do some dishes while both of your elements cook.  You can also prep some green beans, because I think they’d be PERFECT with this meal. Especially green beans almondine or green beans provencal. Of course I was out, but next time I’ll be sure to make them together. As it was all I had was watermelon, so I sliced that up instead.

Now go back to the potatoes and toss or gently stir to move the pieces around. When done replace the lid and swirl around the pan a bit more, then leave alone for awhile longer.

Check back on the chicken. As long as the side down is golden brown, flip over again.  Do you remember our poking/feel test for doneness? If you poke the middle of the chicken with a tongs or your finger, it should give a little but bounce back. It should not be soft, or it’s not done. (If it’s completely hard and solid, it’s overcooked. Pull it off immediately and remove from heat to prevent further cooking.) So once it’s soft in the middle and bouncing back, hit the hit pan with a few splashes of red wine vinegar. It will sizzle. Yum! Sizzling always means something good is happening in the flavor department. Shake the pan a bit to move the thighs around and get them involved in that sauce. When the sizzling calms down a bit, hit the pan with a few splashes of red wine. (I used Shiraz that my mom must’ve left here!) Let that sizzle and cook.  Flip the thighs so both sides – especially the seasoned side – begin to turn a reddish brown from the vinegar and wine. Then turn the heat off and let the chicken rest while you finish the potatoes.

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Gently fold/stir the potatoes again to ensure even cooking. Some sides will be blackened and others might just be golden brown. As long as they’re soft enough to eat and look seasoned on all sides, they should be finished cooking.

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Yum!

Ok, now plate the potatoes first and the chicken atop the potatoes.  Whisk or stir the pan sauce from the chicken and wine, then spoon some over both chicken and potatoes.

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I’m telling you, all this meal was missing was some fresh green bean provencal. All I could think was rustic and flavorful.

I knew the hubs probably wouldn’t want the sauce since he’s eating healthier, so I left his separate:

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So, try this out and let me know what you think! I hope you enjoy as much as we did!

Happy cooking!

Crock Pot Chicken Tacos

I know I haven’t been super consistent with this series, but… it’s Crock Pot Wednesday!

I’ve seen lots of recipes floating around out there for chicken tacos in the crock pot, but most of them used a lot of store-bought ingredients. So I waited for the right time, when sales and time were on my side, and cooked this up! (See what I did there? 😉

What you’ll Need
Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs*
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies
1 batch Cassie’s Homemade Taco Seasonings (measured in teaspoons)
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*More often than not, the thighs are sold with bone-in and skin on. These were miraculously on sale one day and I knew it was perfect for this recipe:
#1. I like the thigh meat better – it’s more tender and juicy, and it’s also usually cheaper.
#2. I didn’t want to worry about pulling bones out of the crock pot, or worrying if there was a small bone mixed in with my child’s taco. If you can’t find the boneless skinless variety, you could probably skin them yourself and pick the bones out when it’s finished. But I was feeling lazy ;
)

This one’s really simple. Just put your chicken in the crock pot, season with some salt, and pour the taco seasonings over top.
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Use a pastry brush to spread across the surface area of all the chicken. Use a tongs to lift chicken thighs up and get the seasonings underneath as well.
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Then add the can of tomatoes & chilies and a thin layer of water (I think I used too much because I had to use a slotted spoon to remove my meat later – but use your discretion).
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Set on low for 6 hours. Or, since I was short on time but didn’t want my chicken to be overcooked, I set it on high for the first hour and a half, then separated the meat a bit, and then set on low for the last 2-3 hours. To separate the meat, just take a metal spoon or a flat wooden spatula and poke at the chicken until the pieces fall apart. It will be pretty easy.

Here’s what it looked like with the chicken separated and cooking up in the juices:
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If you have older kids that are in lots of activities, or if you and your hubby have opposite schedules one night, this is a great meal to make, because you can prep everything, and leave the crock pot to “Keep warm”. This way everyone can eat when they’re ready.

Then serve it on up with your favorite taco fixins! We use whole wheat tortillas, sour cream, salsa, limes, Mexican cheese, and I also made homemade guacamole (if you’ve read this recipe before, check it out again – I changed something that I completely forgot was the most important ingredient!).

Now wait, that’s not all… because tomorrow I’m sharing a REALLY good Second Meal using the leftover chicken!

Happy cooking!

OHI Chicken Quesadillas with Avocado Ranch Spread

Hi! If you’re new to the blog, welcome! Click here for definitions of terminology which may be new to you. 🙂

One day we were out of or low on bread and didn’t have enough to make sandwiches for everyone. I was trying to think of something creative for lunch instead. Tortillas had been BOGO so we had plenty of those. I always have shredded cheese (most commonly, sharp cheddar blends, Italian blends, and Mexican blend) and we were just discussing how we don’t use our quesadilla maker enough – so out it came! I had a ripe avocado begging to be used and I wanted to experiment with seasoning an avocado spread.

Here is what I do when I make an “OHI” meal. I open up my fridge, stare at my fruit/produce basket, and ask myself, what do I have that can go together and be delicious?!? I did have some leftover chicken, some leftover chimichurri, some tomatoes, red pepper, lime, jalapeno, sour cream, mayo, and of course, seasonings.

Here is the hodge podge of OHI I was trying to use up.

Here is the hodge podge of OHI I was trying to use up.

Fresh produce always helps inspire great ideas. So I decided to put all those ingredients into the quesadillas. (If you don’t have exactly these, what DO you have? Toss it in there. I’ll bet ya it’s good!)

So first I chopped the chicken, reheated it in a small frying pan, and tossed it with the chimichurri.

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Then I made this avocado ranch spread. All I did was mash up the avocado, squeeze a little lime juice, add some salt, garlic powder, and onion powder, a very little bit (maybe a tablespoon?) of low fat mayo, and VOILA! Freshly made, very flavorful, delicious avocado spread.

Avocado spread

I spread the avocado ranch on one whole wheat tortilla:
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Then I topped it with Mexican blend cheese, the diced red pepper, chopped tomato, and jalapeno:
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Next I added the chimichurri chicken:
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And sprinkled a little more cheese over top 😉
Then I placed another tortilla over this one. Pinching it closed on both sides, I lifted it carefully and placed it in our quesadilla maker and lowered the lid.

The nice thing about quesadilla makers is there is heat and pressure from both sides, so everything gets nice and melty, and the tortilla gets lightly browned.

However, a quesadilla maker takes up a lot of space, and I haven’t been very creative in finding other uses for it. (I’ve wondered if I put waffle or pancake batter in it, would I have a really large, pre-cut breakfast that’s finger-friendly?? Maybe I’ll try this someday.) So if you don’t have a quesadilla maker, don’t go out of your way. You can easily make a quesadilla by putting the tortilla in a large frying pan and cooking it the same way. I’d suggest using a lid a BIT smaller than the pan to put a little pressure on top. You will probably have to flip this over. It can get messy if you’re not careful. Sometimes I would place a large plate over top of the pan, flip the pan upside down (dropping the quesadilla onto the plate), and then sliding the quesadilla from the plate back into the pan (so the uncooked side is now DOWN). This can be tricky. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK! I recommend use of an oven mitt! 🙂

So now, once the quesadilla is finished, use a large spatula to remove it and place it on a plate or a cutting board. Use a large chef’s knife to cut through the sections, or use a pizza cutter.
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Serve with the Avocado Ranch Spread, and some sour cream too if you & your family like it.
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These are SO good and flavorful. I made some with plain chicken shortly after, and they were just not the same. I suppose you could say this is a Second Meal for the Chimichurri!!! I originally made it for this Steak recipe. It’s so good, and healthy! I’ll be making it again for sure, especially now that I have a second use for it. (You can also toss sliced chicken with it and put it over a salad with some sliced avocado and this homemade dressing. OHHHH SO GOOD!)

Check out this meal plan using chicken breast for more Second Meal ideas!

Chicken Quesadillas with Fruit Salsa

This is Meal #6 in our meal plan using chicken breast.

What we’re Repurposing:
Chicken from Baked Seasoned Chicken or Spinach Artichoke Chicken
Veggies from pasta – chopped red onion, chopped red pepper, chopped Roma tomato

You’ll Also Need:
Whole Wheat Tortillas (2 per quesadilla)
1 8oz bag Shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 Avocado
1 Lime
Salt
Cilantro (you’ll need less than 1 bunch)
1 Large Mango or 2 Ataulfo Mangoes
3 Kiwi, peeled and chopped
1/4c fresh chopped Pineapple
Jalapeno (however much you like)
Sour Cream
OPTIONAL: chimichurri **see OHI recipe (link to be added soon)

Here is the original recipe for the avocado cream and the fruit salsa.

To make the fruit salsa:
Here are the Ataulfo mangoes I used. They are smaller than the ones I normally use – but they were only $.50 each, so I went with these and they still taste the same.

Peel the mangoes first!

Peel the mangoes first!

Chop the mango by making knife cuts lengthwise and crosswise and then sliding your knife underneath parallel to the cutting board to remove the chunks. Add to your salsa bowl (or, to save on dishes, make directly in tupperware so you can save leftovers!).
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Slice the kiwi and then chop it into smaller pieces and add to salsa.
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Chop the red onion and add to salsa.
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Dice up the cilantro, chop the pineapple, and add them to the salsa along with the juice from half a lime. Stir and then salt to taste.

Delicious!

Delicious!

The original recipe called for jalapeno IN the salsa, but I left it out because of the kids.

For the avocado cream:
Note: I actually like this LESS than the avocado spread I made in some OHI quesadillas. But you might like it, so I’m including the recipe here still.
Mash 1 avocado in a bowl. Add about 2 Tblspn minced cilantro, juice from the other half of the lime, 1/2c sour cream, and a little salt. Stir until well combined.
(recipe for my avocado spread soon to come on a different post – link will be at bottom)

To make the quesadillas:
1. Spread the avocado cream on one tortilla and then cover it with cheese
2. Add chopped chicken, tomatoes, red pepper, jalapeno, red onion.

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I left the jalapeno out in the kids’ quesadillas

With jalapeno

With jalapeno and red onion

3. Place another tortilla over top. With one hand on each side holding the tortillas together, place in quesadilla maker. *If you don’t have a quesadilla maker, you can make these in a large frying pan or skillet. Placing a lid or plate over the pan right away will help the cheese melt more quickly, before the tortilla burns. You can also use the fajita size tortillas and fold them over. If you cook them this way, you will probably need to flip them. Use caution and be sure the cheese is melted so you don’t end up with a mess!
4. Slice into triangles and serve with avocado cream or sour cream and fruit salsa.

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**Now, I’m going to make a suggestion. After this week of chicken you might be looking to eat some BEEF. I recommend planning your next week starting with this steak with chimichurri and making the chimichurri a day or two early (it’s good in the fridge for up to a week). Before you make the quesadillas, toss the chicken in the chimichurri sauce. It. Is. SO. good!

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I made these for lunch one day while trying to use up leftovers (what a surprise!) The chimichurri added an unbeatable layer of flavor.

Click here for the complete story on these OHI quesadillas, including my original avocado spread recipe!

OHI Chicken Pasta

This is Meal #7 of the meal plan using chicken breast.

This is another version of my Second Meal pasta, with a twist!

What We’re Repurposing:
Chicken, sauce, veggies from Spinach Artichoke Chicken
*If you have broccoli leftover from our Baked Chicken meal, you can use that here as well.

You’ll also need:
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced (make half-moon shapes)
Half an onion, chopped
Your choice bell pepper, diced (one or multiple colors)
1 can diced tomatoes in juice/sauce
1 jar pasta sauce (whatever flavor you like – the kinds with seasonings are best for flavor)
Whole Wheat Pasta (use the same shape you used in Chicken Noodle Soup)
Olive Oil
*OPTIONAL: Alfredo sauce (you can also substitute a couple splashes of half & half) – use this if you want more creaminess than the Spinach Artichoke Chicken gives you

Here are the pasta sauces I used this time:
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For this dish, I like to get the kinds with more veggies (in this case, mushrooms) and that already have seasonings (the roasted garlic). The point of this meal is that it’s quick, easy to throw together, and flavorful – even though it’s not a long process. So pick flavors that you like. Also, since we’re using the spinach artichoke chicken, you won’t need as much of the Alfredo sauce. Actually, you can replace the Alfredo sauce with whatever sauce is left from the Spinach Artichoke Chicken, and mix the spinach and artichokes in as well. Extra veggies! And one less ingredient, but with the same effect.
*Disclaimer: When I was working my way through this meal plan, I planned to make the Spinach Artichoke Chicken but ran out of time one day (See? Told’ya I’m not perfect! :), so I ended up just baking up another batch of chicken. In the pictures you’ll see plain ol’ baked chicken instead of the Spinach Artichoke chicken. 

First, cook your noodles. (There are tips here if you need them.) Prep your veggies and start your sauce while the noodles are cooking. Drain water from noodles and set aside.

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Toss your veggies in pan, and let them cook for a few minutes. If you’re concerned about what order to add them, it’s always good to add onions first to pull the aroma out, then add them according to their firmness. Peppers are more firm than zucchini, so you add them first to get them softened up a bit.

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This time I used red and green pepper, zucchini, and onion

Then add the canned tomatoes:

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Next add your cooked noodles.
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Chop your chicken (I would suggest doing this on a non-wooden cutting board so it’s easier to clean up.) Add to your pasta:
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Then add your jarred pasta sauce, about 1/4 cup at a time, until you have your desired amount of sauce:
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I always think there should be enough to completely cover all the noodles, and then a little extra so your pasta dish is not dried out.

Then, if you’re using plain chicken, or want more creaminess, add your Alfredo sauce or half & half:

You only need 1/4 or less to add richness to your sauce

You only need 1/4c or less to add richness to your sauce

Stir, simmer for a few minutes, and enjoy!

A little bit will do ya!

A little bit will do ya!

Pasta is so versatile. I hope these meals have shown you that you can enjoy chicken for a whole week without feeling BORED of chicken 😉

Homemade Chicken Soup

This is Recipe #4 of our Meal Plan using Chicken Breast.

What we’re repurposing
Homemade stock (8 1/2 cups total)
Chicken, about 2 breasts worth, chopped
*Note: I love dark meat in soup too. If you prefer shredded meat, you can use chicken thighs and the soup is equally good!

What you need
Half an onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, cut in half lengthwise and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Carrot – probably about 1/2 cup total, peeled and chopped
Noodles – Whatever shape your family likes. This time I used whole wheat rotini.
*Optional: Seasonings (bay leaf, oregano, parsley, basil are good in chicken soup)

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I like to let my soup cook as long as possible, because it develops flavor better that way. And usually, the longer you let the chicken simmer in the broth, the softer it gets and it breaks into smaller pieces. I started my prep around 9:30 in the morning and we ate around 4:30.
In a stock pot or large sauce pan add a pat of butter, then add your chopped onion.
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Next add garlic.
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When onions looking translucent…
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Add celery.
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Here’s how I like to do my carrots. One end is always thicker than the other, so right in the middle I cut the carrot in half:

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Then I cut the thicker piece in half lengthwise:

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Then chop!

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Add carrots to the pot.
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If you’re using additional seasonings, now’s the time to add them. Sprinkle maybe a 1/2 teaspoon of each that you’d like to use and stir. I didn’t use them this time because I just wanted a good chicken flavor and a more mild broth since I’m still on the mend. Plus our chicken was heavily seasoned, so that will add lots of flavor.
Now we’re going to “sweat” the veggies. Place the lid on the pot and let them cook for a few minutes. When you open it again, it will be steamy, aromatic, and the veggies will be nice and soft:
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Now it’s time for our chicken stock! You can add little by little if you want, but I just pour it right in, stirring all the while.
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And now for our chicken! Cut the breast into strips and cut each strip in half:
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Then chop the strips:

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Once it’s chopped, add to soup and stir.
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After 3 hours it will look a little something like this:
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Continue to simmer over low heat until dinner time – another 3 hours is good.
Add your choice of noodles about 10 – 15 minutes prior to serving, depending on the type of noodles. Remember that the longer it simmers with the noodles in it, the more the noodles will absorb the liquid. So be careful not to leave it too long, or you’ll end up with no broth!

Complete!

Complete! Nutritious, delicious, great for a sick day or a cold one!

Serve with salad and a nice loaf of bread.
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Overnight Chicken Stock

This is Recipe #3 of the Meal Plan using Chicken breasts. 

The first time I made homemade stock it was vegetable, because I forgot to pick up a whole chicken. I was nervous because it was the first time I had made it. I found a recipe for an overnight crock pot stock and thought, this sounds easy enough! A big thanks to her, because I tried it, and it turned out great! I immediately used it in chicken soup the next day. That’s what we’re going to do here: make the stock overnight, and use that stock in a chicken soup the next day.

I’m really enjoying the homemade stock because it’s the ultimate way to get the best bang for your buck, using scraps, and using up your OHI. You can’t really mess this up. And this way, you just set it and forget it in the crock pot. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

What I USED:
3 Chicken breasts, ribs in, most chicken used (for this and this) but some still attached
Broccoli stalks (leftover from this dinner)
Celery and celery leaves, cut into chunks
Parsley – a moderate bunch (I used the tops of the leaves of a bunch that was starting to turn yellow on bottom)
Carrots
Half a Red Onion (or yellow, or white… whatever your OHI is), skin on is okay
Garlic (1 head, cut in half), again skin on is okay
9 1/2 cups water
~1/4 cup or so of cooking water from carrots from this meal

All you have to do is toss everything in your crock pot, add the water, and set to low for 8-10 hours.

Veggies and chicken bones in the crock pot

Veggies and chicken bones in the crock pot

Don't throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot instead.

Don’t throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot instead.

In the morning when this is finished, it might look something like this:
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You can drain using this method. (If you come up with a better one, let me know!) Just like recommended on original recipe, I set up a bowl with a colander over it (mine has a nifty little hook!). Using tongs, I remove the larger pieces of veggies and bones and put them in the colander.

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Dump in garbage when full and start again.

Then I use a ladle to spoon the contents (including liquid) into the colander as well. (I’m experimenting to see if those carrots will be useful for anything. I’ll let you know how it goes.)
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Once full, I again dump the colander contents and store the stock in a jar or a tightly sealed glass container until ready to use. (If you are going to use the stock right away, like we will in the meal plan, you can leave it out for an hour or two to let it cool to room temp while you prep the veggies for the soup.)

After draining, I had about 8 1/2 cups of stock (all of which we will use in our next meal, chicken noodle soup!).

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Beautiful homemade stock!

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If you have bits of fat after storing, you can skim them off the top before reusing the stock.

Nana’s Guilt-Free Chicken Salad

This is Meal #2 in this week’s meal plan using America’s favorite: chicken breast. (Well, maybe it’s not your favorite, because you’re tired of it. Hopefully after this week I’ll change your mind!)

If you’re blessed to have an Oma, Nana, Grammy, or Grandma like mine, going to her house always meant a special treat that you could only get from her.  (No matter that your mom would make it at home. It was just never the same.) At my Nana’s when I was young, it was always cinnamon toast and hot chocolate. She must have had some secret recipe for her cinnamon/sugar recipe, because I could never quite replicate how it tasted. And I’m pretty sure her hot chocolate was microwaved milk with store- bought packets. But it was always SO good.
When I got a little older, less picky, and more adventurous, it became this chicken salad. I had never had anything like it. Creamy, crunchy, a little sweet, on toasted bread; it was just the perfect combination of, well, everything.

After I got married, she lovingly shared the recipe with me. I made it a few times exactly to the recipe, but then I started realizing that I had a lot of leftover chicken from dinners, and it was silly to buy canned chicken when I could easily chop up the leftovers instead. Then I started cooking healthier. I have never been a mayonnaise fan, but I’ve conceded that it’s a ‘necessary evil’  – until I learned that Greek yogurt pretty much does the exact same job mayonnaise does, but in a much healthier way.

What makes this recipe special? The apples, grapes, and pecans. I love the apples and pecans for extra crunch – normally celery serves this purpose alone, but it again is one of those things I use semi-reluctantly and that I can’t eat by itself. The grapes add a surprising sweetness. Everything together is just the perfect combination for lunch or dinner. So, here is the recipe for Nana’s chicken salad – adjusted to be a little healthier and a little thriftier!

What We’re Re-Purposing:
Leftovers from Baked Chicken: about 2 cups, chopped

Additional Ingredients:
1 Apple of your favorite variety, finely chopped
1 cup Seedless Red Grapes, cut in half (or in quarters if you prefer)
3/4 cup Chopped (or Diced) Pecans
1 cup Celery, chopped (about one stalk, halved and/or sliced)
1 tsp. Celery Salt
3/4 – 1 cup Greek Yogurt
1/4 cup Fat-Free or Low-Fat Mayonnaise
*Optional: We are using our seasoned baked chicken for this Second Meal, so it will add extra flavor. If your chicken salad tastes bland, add salt, paprika, or pepper to taste.
*You can also add a teaspoon or two of chia seeds for a hidden boost of nutrition!

There is really no secret to preparing this; the secret is in the ingredients. Combine all of them, and toss to coat. I like to use a fork, because it breaks up the chicken a little and makes it easier to eat. Then simply adjust to taste. Instead of making it in a mixing bowl, I make it directly in a tupperware container for easy storage and less dishes. 😉 Many of these ingredients we keep in our house anyway, so it’s easy to add more of anything as you like. Here’s what mine looks like, completed:

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Another reason this is one if my favorites is because of its versatility: You can eat it straight up with a fork.
You can eat it on toasted bread, like my Nana used to make:

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On Toasted Whole Wheat Bread – also great on Whole Grain!

You can serve it on a tortilla, as a wrap:

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It’s also great as a lettuce wrap if you want to skip the carbs altogether.

For our meal plan purposes, serve this for dinner with a side of cooked baby carrots. This same night, plan to make your overnight stock using more of the celery from this recipe. When you cook your carrots, simmer them in water with a little salt until they reach a desired done-ness. But DON’T DRAIN THAT WATER! I’ve always been conflicted about pouring that water down the drain; with carrots and spinach, cooking in water is healthy, but many of the nutrients leach out into that cooking water, and some of the nutrients go down the drain with it. So this time, drain your water directly into the crock pot, and that will give us a little extra boost for our overnight stock!

Don't throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot for our overnight stock instead.

Don’t throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot for our overnight stock instead.

To save time, I had the crock pot ready to go while I was preparing the chicken salad. While I had the cutting board out, I prepped some of the veggies for the stock and tossed them into the crock pot. Most of them are root veggies and won’t be negatively effected if they sit for an hour while you eat dinner. The stock can cook for 10+ hours. Mine cooked for about 12 this last time and turned out great. I’ll post the full details tomorrow!

Hope you’re enjoying the meal plan so far, and especially this chicken salad, which has such a special place in my heart. ❤

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