8 Home-Cooked Meals for under $20?? No Problem – I’ve got you covered!

As I’ve shared many times before, I spend a few hours in the kitchen every weekend and we’ve got fresh and delicious home-cooked meals throughout the week ahead – and beyond!  Today’s adventure in the kitchen (and this blog post) isn’t about a new recipe I’ve been waiting to try, but all about my regular routine of ensuring I can always answer the question, “What’s for Dinner?” (and lunch, too, for that matter!)

So what does 8 meals for under $20 look like?

Chicken Salad Roasted Chicken goat-cheese-basil-chicken

 

 

 

 

I reserved 4 of the chicken breasts to prepare the Goat Cheese-Basil Chicken that will go in the freezer for easy weeknight meals (2 [2 serving] meals) that can be on the table in 45 minutes.  Then I roasted the remaining 2 chicken breasts with all the dark meat pieces.  The roasted breast meat (and a few of the thighs) were used to make the Chicken Salad (Quart size container – Easily 4-5 servings), and the rest of the dark meat pieces to be served alongside a salad, rice or potato, for another 2 [2 serving] meals.  (I saved the back bones to make chicken stock, too!)

Although I’ve shared each of these food prep ideas before, I thought it worth another post to remind everyone that fresh and delicious home-cooked are always within reach – at a fraction of the cost of going out or stopping at the drive-thru window on your way home from work.

I’m reminded about what I wrote in the “About Joe” section of this blog nearly 7 years ago, and it’s still true today.  Here’s an excerpt from that section:

I’ll write about shopping smart and turning leftovers into delightful new creations.  I’ll share ideas on dishes that can be made ahead and placed in the freezer to ensure a hot healthy meal after a long day at work.

I believe everyone can enjoy home-cooked meals at a fraction of the cost of going out – and feel good about what you’re doing for yourself and others in the process!  Food is a great way to share a part of yourself – and it doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.

Thanks for joining me on my adventures in the kitchen, and I hope you’re inspired to try some of the recipes and prep-ahead ideas to reduce stress, eat fresh, and enjoy great food together!

Buon appetito!

 

 

 

 

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Simple, Delicious, Roasted Chicken Salad

After all the years I’ve been making Roasted Chicken Salad, I realized it’s never made an official appearance on this blog.  I’ll share the way I go about making it, but it’s up to you how you’ll make it your own.  It’s really as easy as 1, 2, 3:

Picture of oven roasted chicken breasts

1.  Roasted Chicken Breasts

Picture of Chopped Carrots, Celery, Walnuts, and Dried Cranberries

2. Chopped Carrots, Celery, Walnuts, and Dried Cranberries

Picture of Chicken Salad with Crackers

3. Chicken Salad – Ready to Eat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started with 4 bone-in/skin on chicken breasts.  (You could use boneless/skinless, too, but I like the flavor from the bone and skin during roasting.)  Drizzle each with olive oil and sprinkle with salt/pepper.  Roast in a 400F oven for about 50-60 minutes.  You’ll know they’re ready when they’re golden brown and the internal temperature is at 160F.  Let cool, then remove meat from the skin/bone and chop into small size dice.  Set aside in large bowl (for mixing.)

Chop about 1/2 cup (2 stalks) celery, 1/2 cup (2-3 small) carrots, and a handful each of walnuts and dried cranberries.  Add to the chopped chicken.

Mix chicken and ‘chopped goodness’ with about 1 cup mayo (or combo of 1/2 cup mayo and 1/2 cup non-fat plain greek yogurt,) about 1/2 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, and about 1/4 tsp. kosher salt.  (Since the chicken breasts were seasoned with salt/pepper, you’ll want to add additional to your taste.)

That’s it!  Simple and Delicious.  Eat with your favorite crackers, on your favorite bread as a sandwich, or put a scoop on top of a salad.  Now matter how you enjoy it – you’ll be making it again and again!  Enjoy!


Sunday, Fun Day, SOUP!!

It was anything but cold here in San Diego this past weekend, but it is winter – and with that comes the craving for delicious nutritious soup!  You know my freezer is always stocked with homemade soup selections, so it was time to restock!  Here’s what came from two chickens and a few vegetables:

4 Quarts Chicken Soup, 5 Quarts Roasted Chicken Lentil Soup, Chicken Salad, and Roasted Chicken (with sweet potatoes) for dinner!

Chicken Soup/Roasted Chicken Lentil Soup

Chicken Soup/Roasted Chicken Lentil Soup

The recipe for this lentil soup is straight from Ina Garten’s Vegetable Lentil Soup recipe, with the added deliciousness of  shredded roasted chicken!  Either way, it’ll warm you up!

Roasted!

 

 

 

 

 

Lentil and Roasted Chicken Soup
(Vegetarian – Omit the Roasted Chicken)
1 pound lentils
3 large yellow onions
2 leeks, white parts only (chopped)
3 cloves garlic – minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 TBSP Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 TBSP minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried
1 tsp. ground cumin
8 celery stalks – ½-inch chop
6 carrots – ½-inch chop
3 quarts chicken stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 Bone-In Roasted Chicken Breasts (shredded) – optional

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot on medium heat, sauté the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and sauté for 10 more minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Check the seasonings. Add the red wine and shredded chicken.   Serve hot, sprinkled with grated Parmesan.
 

Versatile Chicken!  I love to make chicken salad with roasted chicken, so I cut up the two chickens, roasted the 4 breast halves with the legs and wings, used the two backs and all the thighs for the chicken soup.  Two of the roasted chicken breast halves were shredded for the Lentil soup, and the other two were chopped and combined with some chopped celery, carrots, walnuts, dried cranberries, a dash each of Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, and cumin, along with a couple spoonfuls of mayo – and voila – Roasted Chicken Salad!

Treat yourself to a Sunday, Fun Day in the kitchen – and reap the reward with meal after meal!

Your freezer IS your pantry – saving money, saving time!


Summer (Salad) Supper!

In the mood for a light, yet filling, nutritious, and delicious summer supper?  Here’s an idea that can be on the table in no time if you have Ina’s Warm French Lentils ready in the freezer.  (If not, you can find heat and serve lentils at your neighborhood Trader Joe’s.)

Summer Salad

Warm French Lentil Salad

I tossed the mixed greens with a light lemon vinaigrette dressing, topped by a couple spoonfuls of warm lentils.  Added some tomatoes, olives, avocado, and bleu cheese – and supper is on the table.  (Walk away feeling satisfied, not stuffed, with room for a little something sweet!)

Here’s an excerpt from my post on December 25, 2013 (Christmas Eve Dinner) with Ina’s recipe for Warm French Lentils:

Saute a couple carrots (1/2-inch chopped)  and one chopped leek (white and light green parts) in olive oil for about 5 minutes.  Add one chopped garlic clove and saute for an additional minute.  Set aside.  Bring 4 cups water to a boil with 1 cup dry lentils, 1 turnip (cut in half) and one whole (peeled) onion stuck with 6 cloves.  Once boiling, add the carrots and leeks, reduce heat, and simmer about 20 minutes until lentils are tender.  Discard turnip and onion, strain lentil mixture, and toss in a bowl with 1 tsp. unsalted butter.  In a separate bowl, make a Dijon vinaigrette.  (1/4 cup olive oil, 2 TBPS red wine vinegar, 4 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1 TBSP kosher salt, and 1 tsp. black pepper.  Add warm lentils to vinaigrette, toss, and let stand for about 15 minutes.  Ready to enjoy!


Twice Baked Goodness (and Sunday Soup)!

We all love a baked potato – but how about a twice-baked??  (I know, nothing new, but everything old is new again.)  Funny how foods are in fashion – then you don’t think about them for a while.  Here’s the perfect potato side – with all its cheesy deliciousness!

Twice Baked Potato

Bake 4 potatoes as you would normally, or microwave them on high covered with a damp paper towel for 12 minutes, re-arranging after 6 minutes.  After they cool, slice them across the middle and scoop out the potato meat, leaving about 1/4 inch of potato in the skin.  Heat a pat of butter (2 tsp) and 1 tsp finely chopped garlic in a saute pan for about 30 seconds.  Pour in 1/2 cup milk and bring to a simmer (not a boil).  Pour over the potato and mash together with a handful of sharp cheddar cheese, some chopped bacon of ham, some chopped chives or fresh parsley – or anything else you want.  Scoop the mashed potato mix back into the shells.  Sprinkle with some additional cheese and bake at 450 F for about 8-10 minutes until golden brown.  Top with some sour cream – and you’ve got a spectacular side!

Sunday Soup Sensation!

It was a cold (for San Diego) and rainy weekend, so I stocked the freezer with some of my favorite staple soups.  You can always find a variety of home made soups in my freezer – and now we’re fully stocked up again!

Minestra – This is an escarole and white bean soup that’s nutritious and delicious.  Check out the recipe in an earlier post (in the Soup/Salad category).

Minestra

Ina’s Lentil Soup

(Click link for recipe)  This is the best – and makes about 5 quarts.  I roast a couple of bone-in chicken breasts (Olive Oil, Salt, and Pepper) at 375 F for about 45 minutes and when they’re cool, shred the chicken into the soup.  Hearty and oh-so-good!

Giada’s Artichoke and Chicken Spezzatino

(Click link for recipe)  The mix of flavors with artichoke hearts, chicken, and cannellini beans is amazing – this soup won’t disappoint!

Enjoy!


Ina Inspired Memorial Day

Actually, every day is an Ina inspired day in my kitchen.  Whether it’s following one of her recipes to the tee or creating a delicacy of my own, Ina’s influence is ever present in guiding my way through the kitchen.  After being away for the past week (visiting my family in NY), I awoke today with my usual thought, “What’s for dinner?”  There’s something about Memorial Day and ribs, so they quickly became part of the plan.  Now onto side dishes.  Hmm…. what do I feel like?  Ina’s Greek Panzanella Salad, of course.  It’s a wonderfully fresh and incredibly tasty salad that’s always a crowd pleaser, even if the crowd is just Mike and me!  We love it.  After taking the pup to the beach, I made my weekly stop at Trader Joe’s and proceeded to find all that I needed to make dinner.  Along the way, however, the ingredients for guacamole and roasted red potato salad also snuck into my basket.  I wasn’t sure how we’d be eating all that today,  but I knew we’d be happy (food) campers throughout the week ahead!  I ended up making all that, and also used the leftover Roma tomatoes (for the guacamole) to make a roasted tomato caprese salad.  Okay, I also bought some fresh mozzarella as I could see that dish coming when I bought the package of 4 tomatoes!!

The guacamole recipe is mostly Ina, but I don’t pull the recipe out to follow it exactly.  If I did, though, I’m sure it would be very close.  I”ve made it so many times in the past, the list of ingredients is almost second nature.  Today I used 4 avocados, 1 chopped garlic clove, juice and zest of one lemon, half a tomato (small diced), a small handful of cilantro, salt, pepper, and tabasco!

Guacamole

The Greek Panzanella salad and Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad are straight from Ina’s recipe file.  I’ve made both selections countless times – with perfect results every time!  Give them a try for a big impact, and an even bigger taste!  (Both recipes are available online at http://www.foodnetwork.com)

Greek Panzanella Salad

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad

The Roasted Red Potato Salad is all mine, sort of.  Something similar was served to me at  San Diego Desserts last year, so I put my own recipe together and have to say, it’s good!  I start by roasting some cubed red potatoes in the oven with olive oil, salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence.  (A mix of dry herbs, but it’s not necessary.)   After the potatoes are roasted and ready, I mix up a dressing with 1/2 cup mayo, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, and 1/2 tsp celery seed.  Toss the potatoes in and add about half cup small diced red pepper and a small diced celery stalk.  I also added a couple tablespoons of chopped fresh basil leaves.  Make the recipe to your taste and to your liking!

Roasted Red Potato Salad

It was great to be back in my kitchen today – and I’m looking forward to finsihing up all these goodies during the week ahead.  With the addition of a few preparations here and there, lunch and dinner is ready to go for the week ahead.  Hope your week is filled with good food and happiness!


Sunday Cooking

Sunday Chicken, of Course!

Something about Sunday and Roasted Chicken – a great combination!  On (almost) any given Sunday, you’ll find a chicken roasting in the oven around dinnertime at our house.  Couldn’t be easier, and there’s usually plenty left over for lunch during the week, as it is or turned into a chicken salad.  I usually roast potatoes and carrots along with the chicken, but today I opted for the chicken on it’s own with a side of homemade pasta (Cavatelli – see earlier post), and a mixed green salad.

I like to butterfly the whole chicken and roast it skin-side up laid out flat on baking/cookie sheet.  (That way, every piece gets crispy and golden brown.)  Using a sharp pair of kitchen scissors, cut on either side of the backbone to remove.  Gently pry the chicken open and split the cartilage (from the inside) between the chicken breasts.  A small crack will allow you to pry the chicken flat.  Turn it over onto a foil lined baking sheet pan and pat the skin dry.  Rub with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Bake at 425F for about an hour.  When the chicken comes out of the oven, transfer to a serving plate and cover with aluminum foil to rest for 5-10 minutes.  You’ll have no trouble carving it from there and it will soon become a family favorite!

Roast Chicken and CavatelliSunday Dinner

We enjoyed dinner tonight with our good friend, Christine.  She brought a delicious carrot cake for us to enjoy for dessert!  Delicious!

Christine’s Carrot Cake

Minestra

I also made a batch of Minestra today.  It’s an Escarole and White-Bean Soup that was a staple in our house growing up, that’s rich with nutrition, and loaded with flavor.  I use a chicken or vegetable stock as the liquid for the soup, plus add flavor with small chunks of pepperoni, crisp pancetta, or ham.  You can easily skip the meat (and use the vegetable stock) for a hearty and delightful vegetarian option.

The recipe for this soup is very much your own.  Read on for the steps I take to make it, but the idea is that you’ll combine the greens, beans, stock, and any other flavor add-ons to create a wonderfully healthy soup!

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.  If you’re using small chunks of pancetta or ham, brown it in the oil until crispy.  Then add a couple of garlic cloves (chopped) and sauté for about a minute.  (If you’re not using the pancetta or ham, start off with the garlic.)  Start adding the 2 heads of well-cleaned and large-chopped escarole (or substitute another leafy green) until it wilts and cooks down a bit.  Start adding the chicken or vegetable stock little by little to help cook down the greens.  You can add the beans at any time.  If you’re using cannellini beans from the grocery store, you’ll also want to add a little parsley, a small-diced carrot and celery stalk, and half a diced onion.  If you’re making your own beans (recipe follows), then the carrot, celery, onion and parsley are already in there.  You’ll end up using about a quart of stock, and you’ll add salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for about 30 minutes until the greens are tender and the seasonings are to your liking!  Enjoy!

Minestra

White Beans

Start with a pound of white beans (Great Northern) that you’ll soak (covered) in water overnight.  Rinse the beans and combine them in a pan with enough fresh water to just about cover them.  Add in a small-diced carrot and celery stalk, have a diced onion, and a handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper (maybe ½ to 1 teaspoon of each, depending on your preference).  Cook over medium heat at a gentle boil until beans are tender.  Cool, but don’t drain the beans.  Scoop into pint-size containers and freeze until you’re ready to use them in soups or any number of other dishes, as you like!