You know those prep-ahead clean eating lunch videos – often from Tasty? Well, I decided to give one a whirl.
Here’s the basic concept: pick 1 protein for 3-oz servings, 2 vegetables, and 1 gluten free carbohydrate (rice, potatoes, quinoa).
Mine: chicken breast with ginger aioli, brussels sprouts, asparagus and mushrooms, and creamer potatoes.
I took some help from my local Harris Teeter produce: cut and salt/pepper/garlicked brussels sprouts and asparagus pack ($3.99 each) and a ready-to-bake-in-pan package of creamer potatoes (also $3.99). The potatoes came with a seasoning packet, which I chose to use because the sodium was really, really low.
The only thing I made was garlic aioli. How? Peel some garlic – about 2 inches worth – and pour 1/4 cup of your good oil (olive, grapeseed, coconut) and a pinch of salt into your bullet blender and let it go. Then I brushed it directly onto my chicken breasts. I drizzled the little bit left over onto the brussels sprouts, just because.
Into a 450°F fully preheated oven for 30 minutes. That’s all it takes.
Let it cool and divvy it up into four microwave safe food storage containers. Voila. Lunch for the week – for me, at least, since I have only four days with a fixed lunch hour.
$2.90 – Chicken Breast – one giant one from a 6-pack, cut into 4 pieces
$3.99 – pre-cut asparagus with sliced mushrooms and minced garlic
$3.99 – pre-cut brussels sprouts seasoned with salt and pepper
$3.99 – creamer potatoes already in a baking pan and including seasonings
Earlier this year, I made from dry-bean-scratch baked beans for a group of out-of-towners, and well, I think it blew their minds. And I get it. Even my family’s “Aunt Von’s Baked Beans” come from the 1940s, a time when country cooks like Aunt Von would have made most bean meals from dry beans, but even her recipe starts with Campbell’s Baked Beans – already seasoned and sauced.
But c’mon, what’s it gonna cost you to experiment and really understand and control exactly how your baked beans taste instead of trusting what comes out of a can with ingredients made or refined in a lab? These are my day-of baked beans – the only difference is that I start with plain, unseasoned, unsalted canned beans because they are pre-soaked for me. Everything else is the same as my regular dry-bean recipe:
2 cans of great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 green bell pepper, diced tiny
1 small or 1/2 large sweet onion, diced tiny (try to get Vidalia or Wadmalaw)
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 can of tomato sauce (try to get no salt added)
1/4 – 1/2 cup brown sugar – for my family, I use 1/2 c, for out-of-towners I use 1/4 c
1/3 cup worchestershire sauce – I use a gluten free, corn free, soy free version
1t ginger (ground for sweet, fresh diced for spice)
1 pinch red pepper flakes (literally 10-15 flakes)
3-4 slices of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
Mix everything together in a bowl at least 2 hours before you need to start baking (at least 4 hours before serving). Taste to see how sweet, tangy, tart, spicy it is and add seasonings as desired. Keep in mind that at this stage, the tomato sauce is the main source of tangy and that will mellow into sweet during baking; be careful not to go overboard on sweet at this stage.
Ingredients that contribute to sweetness are tomato sauce, sugar, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and ground ginger.
Ingredients that contribute to tangy- or tartness are tomato sauce, apple cider vinegar, worchestershire sauce.
Ingredients that contribute to spiciness are garlic, fresh ginger and red pepper flakes.
Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let marinate on the counter for at least 2 hours. It’s important to NOT put it in the refrigerator because that will slow down the marinating – not ideal for day-of beans.
Pour into 8×8 or 9×9 casserole dish and top with bacon pieces. Put in 350F oven for 90-120 minutes. Test at 90 minutes by lightly jiggling the dish. If it moves like liquid, makes a ripple, it’s not done yet. You’re looking for the liquid to reduce to a thick glaze and fully cooked bacon on top, not a thickened sauce and still-white fat on the bacon. And the bacon won’t really start to cook until the liquid stops touching it.
Another way to think of the ideal consistency of baked beans is that when you spoon then onto the plate 1) you don’t need to use a slotted spoon to drain them and 2) you don’t have to worry about the juice contaminating anything else on the plate.
Naturally, these are my ideals as a Southern cook in South Carolina who learned to cook from a Texas and Oklahoma ranch or cowboy style of cooking. Think about it: you can’t ride a horse around with a pot of juicy beans sloshing around.
Gluten-free means you can never have authentic Italian food again, right? WRONG! There’s so much more to Italian food than pasta. Here’s one of my favorite 1-pan Italian dinner bakes that hits the rights notes with the whole family.
Ingredients (in order of use):
1.5 cups white rice (long grain, jasmine, basmati, whatever)
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings already included
2 cups water, chicken stock, or combination (especially if you have some you just need to use up in the fridge)
2 lb. chicken breast and/or thighs, skinless, boneless (roughly 4 pieces, 1 per person)
1 8 oz container of pesto
NOTE: this is the semi-homemade version, as Sandra Lee might say; you can certainly make your own chicken stock, dice your own tomatoes, and blend your own herbs into pesto if you’re so inclined.
Pre-heat your oven to 350°F.
In an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish, combine the rice, diced tomatoes, and chicken stock (or water). Put in the oven for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove and stir mixture; most of the rice will still be small and hard – don’t worry – that’s normal!
Add your four pieces of chicken. Spoon roughly equal amounts of pesto over each one – approximately 3 Tbspns – and spread to cover the chicken.
Return to oven for 30-45 minutes, depending on how large/thick your chicken pieces are.
This dish is really great for Southern American families where red rice is king; the minor change up in herb seasonings helps keep things fresh without completely blowing picking kids for a loop.
TIP: make ahead and reheat or freeze. When you thaw it out, add about 1 cup of stock or water to make sure the rice doesn’t dry out when heated in a 350°F oven for about 30- minutes (assuming thawed to room temperature.
I’m not trying to present anything authentically Greek like your native or first-generation Yaya made, but rather to elevate the simple chicken and rice dish with the flavors most Americans associate with Greek or (generically) Mediterranean food. In fact, if you leave off the Greek-ish additions, you could just say this is Lemon Pepper Chicken and Rice and stop there :-).
To easily change up a wonderful dish when it’s getting a little stale in the dinner rotation, consider adding lemon juice to your chicken and rice bake and serve with a sprinkle of feta cheese and olives.
Ingredients for a 4-serving bake
1 cup uncooked white or brown rice (jasmine, basmati, American long grain, whatever)
2 cups water or chicken stock or combination
1-2 lemons, juiced (1-2 T prepared lemon juice) – to taste
4 4-6-oz pieces of boneless chicken – any combination of breasts and thighs
1t salt (only if using water because even low sodium chicken stock already has salt)
1t – 1T black pepper – to taste
1 package of crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives (or black or green if you like those)
NOTE: you might think that dicing the chicken before putting it in the bake will make this easier, but the smaller pieces cook so much more quickly than the rice that they become dry and rubbery. Not pleasant, IMHO.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Layer rice, water/stock, juice, chicken, salt, and pepper in a 9×9 baking dish in the order listed above for the least messy assembly.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Stir – this is essential for all of the rice to get cooked.
Bake uncovered for 10 more minutes.
Use two forks to shred the chicken. Stir to mix thoroughly with the rice.
Serve with a sprinkle of feta cheese and chopped olives.
LEFTOVERS: if you have any leftovers, they make for a great cold rice salad with artichoke, cucumber, tomato, and sweet onion and a drizzle of olive oil or Greek salad dressing added to the feta and olives. Mmmmm, lunch!
My dad and brother go on a fishing trip every year in August, and brought back some shark that we’ve been wondering how we want to cook. And about a week ago, in a fit of nostalgia, I was flipping through my grandfather Joe Jones’s personal cookbook and came across his Fish Stewrecipe, complete with variations for 21-, 15-, 10-, 5-, and 2-gallon batches. I rubbed my hands together and giggled with fanatical glee: PaPa would LOVE shark in his fish stew!
Bonus! This is such a pantry meal since every ingredient is a staple in our family pantry.
As I’m interested in batches for a standard 4-5 person family, I made just a few adjustments, mainly in the liquid ingredients:
3 slices of bacon, chopped into strips or dices
2 medium sweet Vidalia or yellow onions, chopped small
1.5 lbs potatoes, diced (roughly 3 cups)
2 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes (recommend fire roasted with garlic)
2 cups V-8 juice (recommend original or low sodium)
1 cup fish or chicken broth
1/2 cup fish sauce or white wine (but not both)
1/4 cup Worchestershire sauce or soy sauce (but not both)
1/4 cup hot sauce (like Tabasco or Texas Pete)
1 T Old Bay seasoning (or similar)
2-3 lbs white fish (shark and gator work well also)
In a large stock pot over medium heat, drop in the bacon and onion and let sweat and sizzle for 3-4 minutes, just until the bacon starts to firm up and the onions start to get clear but NOT browned or caramelized.
Add the potatoes, diced tomatoes, V-8 juice, white wine/fish sauce, Worchestershire/soy sauce, hot sauce, and seasoning.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the fish. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Use your stirring spoon to break up the fish into smaller pieces. Flakier fishes like catfish and flounder will “melt” into the stew. Sturdier fishes like mahi mahi, snapper, shark, or swordfish will hold up as chunks.
Serve with cornbread or breadsticks or any sturdy bread. Soft breads like croissants or yeast rolls will get gummy and chewy. For this night (photos), I heated some leftover Papa John’s parmesan breadsticks in the oven for 15 minutes on 350°F.
Confession: I HATE tomato juice and tomato soups, which extends to PaPa’s fish stew, but my family loves it. It’s often what we make with any leftover fish from a fry or a restaurant rather than reheating (stinky!) or choking down cold, dry fish.
My best friend has her abuela’s pot for making Arroz con Pollo, but my family is much less discerning of that level of authenticity. Instead, we get close with this flavorful sausage and rice dish.
1 family size package of Vigo Spanish Rice (with seasonings included in the package)
2 lbs cooked link sausage, such as kielbasa, turkey sausage, venison sausage, etc.
1-2 packages of frozen peppers and onions (roughly 1-2 cups of chopped frozen or cooked peppers and onions)
1/2 – 1 cup whole green Spanish olives stuffed with pimentos
1 poblano pepper, diced (optional)
Cook the rice according to package instructions.
While the rice cooks, slice cooked sausage into coins and brown in skillet.
Note: Vigo seasoned Spanish rice is not corn-free. Use unseasoned white or yellow rice and Sazon with Saffron seasoning.
Thaw/steam frozen peppers and onions (with poblano pepper if using) in the microwave. Or, if using fresh veggies, sautee in skillet after sausage is all browned.
When rice is finished, mix in browned sausage, warmed peppers and onions, and olives. I leave my olives whole because all of my peeps like them; feel free to slice or chop yours up if you need to hide them ;-).
Serve directly from the rice pot, accompanied by fresh fruit salad or seasonal marinated vegetables.
Tip: maintain healthy overnight blood sugar by skipping the “bread on the side” with dinner when you already have rice, pasta, or potatoes. Even non-diabetics can experience unhealthy blood glucose levels when consuming extra complex carbohydrates.
For a family of 2-4, this meal can be made using 1 cutting board, 1 chef’s or chopping knife, 1 mixing bowl, and 1 large baking sheet. You can make clean up even easier by lining your baking sheet with foil.
The night before you’ll be cooking this dinner, combine all of the Marbella marinade ingredients and whisk to mix well. Pour over the raw chicken (yep, it can even be frozen still); make sure the chicken is one layer when you put it in the fridge. It is super important that you marinate the chicken overnight.
For baking, prehead the oven to 375°F, line your baking sheet with foil and spray it down well with cooking spray.
Toss your diced potatoes and halved Brussels sprouts in good oil and salt and pepper. You can certainly add any other spices you like at this time; for pairing with the Marbella flavors, I recommend lemon pepper or dijon, something with a strong, tart flavor to contrast with the salty and sweet of the Marbella.
Lay out the chicken in a row across one end of the pan, layer the potatoes in the middle in one layer, and layer the Brussels sprouts and onions on the other end of the pan. Pour any remaining Marbella marinate over the chicken.
Place the pan on the upper rack in the center of the oven, and set the timer for 30 minutes.