September 12, 2011

What's for dinner? The Which Came First Bake!

I'm on a roll lately, and I'm not squelching it. I even remembered to take pictures of NOT ONLY the finished product on this meal... but some of the STEPS!! Radical... I know. Especially since I was "rationing" my camera battery until my (MARVELOUS) Mother In-Law mailed it back to me (oops).  Thanks, I got it this afternoon!! :-P

SO, since this has a catchy name... you can bet I didn't name it. Hubby did. So yes, it's the "Which Came First Bake" Why? Because it's Chicken and Eggplant Parm... but not... cause I didn't use that much Parmesan cheese... and which came first... the Chicken... or the Eggplant?!? (yes, we're ham's in this house)

ANYWAY, this is really hubby's mastermind. I'd seen some REALLY nice eggplant at the store, and bought a big one... and it sat on the counter long enough that I decided it was now or never... time for Eggplant Parmesan. But then I thought "I need protein, and brother-in-law might come for dinner... and he just needs lots of food... so I'll fry up some chicken fingers to 'spread it out a bit' and we'll be all set". Well, hubby decided that what I REALLY should do is defrost a BUNCH of chicken breasts so we could have leftovers, and "parm" them... and make them the bottom layer of the eggplant parm dish. So I did. It ends up... this is a dish you can prep-ahead somewhat and bake to finish later, and it's DELICIOUS. So are the leftovers 0:-P

The basic gist (since there are NO measurements here) is to fry up some 1/2" thick slices of eggplant like you would to make eggplant Parmesan (except I just used seasoned breadcrumbs... not Parmesan anything). Then fry up some pounded chicken breasts the same way. (real hard, right? You don't even have to finish cooking them... just get them breaded and browned.)

Now, I used my "deep dish baker" from Pampered chef for this, and a large eggplant + four chicken breasts + cheese and sauce filled it up pretty well... so pyrex might not cut it this time around. But you put some sauce in the bottom of the pan, and lay the chicken breasts in as best as possible. Then some Parmesan cheese (because this was, after all, SUPPOSED to be eggplant and chicken PARM) more sauce, and mozzarella. Then layer your eggplant in the same manner (not a ton of sauce here people though) cover, and bake for 30 minutes at 350*. Now... mine ended up sitting in the covered baker for close to an hour while I made these cookies and then remembered the pasta (totally unnecessary by the way) so it may have continued to cook a bit, but I've found that pre-cooking the chicken on the stove means 30 minutes in the oven and you're done.

Here are my "in process photos" with the short-and-sweet directions: Fry, layer, bake, eat.



September 11, 2011


I bought a book at Michaels: Vanna's Choice Easy Crochet Critters

And I FINALLY finished my HIPPO!! Including yarn-embroidered nostrils (straight stitch) and eyes (french knot)

The first, and possibly last amigurumi animal I create (not, Hubby wants the monkey, and I like the penguin and lion too much, lol!)  One more "task" off my list! :-D


September 8, 2011

Experimental Dinner Success!! Chicken and Rice with Beans and Veggies Bake

Man, I really need to work on my "titling" skills. And my remembering to take photos of food. I'm blaming it all on pregnancy. ANYWAY, I made an "experimental dinner" tonight (which always makes Hubby a little nervous) but it came out pretty well! I was even given permission to use the technique and change up the flavors for different variations!

I always liked the idea of Cambell's Chicken and Rice bake that used condensed cream of mushroom soup... but it was never soupy enough for me, and always seemed to come out dry (maybe I cook it too long, I don't know). So today, having defrosted 2 chicken breasts with NO idea what I was going to do with them, and the only request from Hubby being that "whatever we have for dinner... I want a LOT"... I thought of chicken with black beans and rice. But I didn't know what to do with the chicken part... and since I'm working on getting more veggies and less salt in my diet to help reduce the pregnancy puff.... I was even more stumped.

So I looked up how to "bake rice" to find out how much LIQUID is required for that method. Turns out: 1.5 to 1.75 times more liquid than rice. With this knowledge, and a can of black beans... I went to brainstorming. This is what I came up with (including some changes I would do next time)

2-4 defrosted and trimmed chicken breasts, pounded flat (seasoned with salt/pepper/garlic powder/cumin)
1 small/medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic (or a minced clove or two)
2 teaspoons cumin
1 cup pepper, diced (I used frozen)
1 can of black beans, drained (and rinsed if you wish. I used reduced sodium beans)
1 cup rice
1 15.something ounce can of chicken broth (aka, 1 3/4 cup, again... reduced sodium)
Ovenproof cooking vessel with some sort of lid. I used a deep-dish-baker from Pampered Chef, but a pyrex dish and some tinfoil should work too.
Frying Pan

Preheat your oven to 375*
In a frying pan, heat up some olive oil, and sautee the onion until translucent, and add garlic until aromatic.
In Baker, place 1 cup uncooked rice, 1 cup pepper (frozen is still fine - no need to defrost), onion and garlic, cumin, black beans and broth (feel free to add additional veggies like tomatoes or 1/2 cup of salsa, or corn or what-have-you) and stir together.
Season your flattened chicken breasts with black pepper, cumin, garlic, salt... whatever floats your boat.
In now-empty, but hot, frying pan, place chicken to brown on each side (maybe 2-3 minutes each side?)- don't worry... you're not cooking it through, just getting some color on the outside.
Nestle the chicken into the rice/veggie/liquid mixture, throw a lid (or tinfoil) on and put in the oven. TECHNICALLY, it should take 35 minutes... mine took 45 to fully cook the rice. The chicken was done at 35 minutes (probably an extra few to heat up the stoneware).

Let it sit for a few minutes (to cool, and let the rice finish soaking up the broth after cooking) and you'll have moist chicken, flavorful moist rice, and a yummy dinner that took very little prep and follows up with very little cleaning. Heck, you can wash the frying pan, cutting board, knife and chicken-pounder all before dinner even starts!

The changes I included were: Seasoning the chicken. oops. Using 4 breasts instead of two (because portion wise... that's the right quantity for everything else). Using TWO instead of one tsp cumin. Using a WHOLE can of black beans (I used 3/4 cause... it looked good, and meant I'd have beans for quesadilla's later... and that's what came out of the can unassisted when I dumped it in the strainer). Not cooking the pepper ahead of time, and honestly? Using a frying pan. (my stock-pot was already coated in oil from popcorn!! I just went with it. Not ideal for browning chicken however...)

The hubster wanted "a lot" of food... so I doubled the amount of rice we normally eat - and after gorging himself, I still had about 2 cups of rice left-over (which is in the freezer in a ziplock now, waiting for us to eat quesadilla's next so it can be microwaved back to marvelousness - yay for freezing rice!) It always amazes me how much COOKED rice you get from RAW rice.  If you'd like a little heat... feel free to add some chili powder. About 1/2 a cup of salsa would be great too (in an attempt to avoid heartburn tonight, I refrained from heat and tomatoes).

I'll have to think up another flavor combo to try soon... a few ingredients thrown into that covered baker for a bit, and coming out with a meal-in-one?!? I LIKE it. It might become the "Crud. I didn't defrost a freezer-meal today" solution come December...

And speaking of freezer meals (I'm babbling tonight, sorry) - the chicken-pot-pies from yesterday came out well!! (although my crust never browned :-/ It might have been that I baked them in the toaster oven... which is part of why I didn't take a photo. The other part was that I cooked them FOREVER waiting for them to get brown, so I was super hungry by the time we caved and just ate.) Hubby wanted more salt in his since I made it SUPER low sodium... I want sleep lines that disappear in less than two hours, so he can deal for now. Maybe I'll go back to "regular salt" when I don't feel as puffy ;).


September 7, 2011

I'm not dead... yet.

So I realized it's been a week since I posted (ok, over a week), and figured I'd ease all your fears by saying "I'm not dead!!"

I've gotten my booty moving on some projects, I just still haven't finished any.

I'm now 1/2 way through painting the crib... should have continued yesterday... and today... and didn't.  I've officially "given up" on the concept of ME refinishing the furniture, and am officially putting out the "if you'd like to earn some free eats, I've got 2 dressers you're welcome to refinish!" offer. So I guess... in a way... that's "finished" lol.

The bumper has had a LITTLE progress in that I've met with my friend, and we have a decent plan of action put together now at least. The quilt officially has a design, and I started making up pattern pieces for the applique today (whoo hoo!)

Got some $$ at the "In-Laws" baby shower (it's almost cool not living near family... you get multiple parties, all less overwhelming than 1 HUGE one!) and decided that Aunt Nonie would be happiest if she got me the REALLY cool port-a-crib with it. So I signed up for Amazon Mom's and ordered it. It will be here tomorrow :-D Which means the Port-a-Crib sheet can be started soon, followed by the burp cloths!

Hubby's Scarf has been started, and after sitting (parked) in traffic for 2.5 hours the other day, I was really kicking myself for not bringing it along. It could be almost finished now, lol! And the Hippo has come a little ways too... it just needs 1 ear, 4 legs, a tail and eyes.

Mom-in-law was kind enough to get me Thank You Cards that went with her shower invites... I just need to address and mail them... which reminds me that I forgot to pick up stamps while at the post office today. Dern it. Oh, and either cave and buy more to send to the "non-baby-shower-gift-givers" or... something. Maybe I'll have the rest of you wait until the Quilt is done ;).

Off to prep some homemade condensed cream of chicken soup and pie crust for my second attempt at Chicken Pot Pie today... Maybe I'll take pictures of my masterpiece when it's done...