Crunch Time Chicken

Heading into Ottawa ComicCon cosplay crunch time, I’ve been resorting to some of my tried-and-true dinner dishes to feed my family. Last night I made up baked chicken thighs with my favourite spring chicken spice mixture, served with mashed potatoes and a Caesar salad.

I’m looking for new quick and easy meals for the next month or so (it’s one month away! Eek!), but I don’t have time to do my usual leafing through my cookbooks and browsing the Internet for ideas. I do have a few Crock Pot recipes I’ve been wanting to try that might be perfect. At the very least, I’ll try not to resort to Kraft Dinner and instant ramen…

Cheater Chicken Bacon Quesadillas

Basic quesadillas aren’t exactly difficult to make in the first place, but some nights I’m looking for an even quicker, easier meal. Not only that, but a meal that the kids can help me prep (although it’s debatable if they speed anything up, honestly). Truthfully, it’s more like a grilled cheese on tortillas than a true quesadilla, but everyone in the family likes it. It whips up nice and quickly while I make up a salad.


The dressing is for the salad, not the quesadilla… Although ranch and chicken and cheese are a proven taste combination.

It doesn’t really have a recipe per se, since it’s mostly made using leftovers. Each quesadilla starts with a tortilla on a baking sheet, then a layer of grated cheese (the kids like sharp cheddar, while my husband prefers mozzarella and cheddar mixed, and I stick with whatever I can get lactose-free). Next is a handful of leftover chicken — often from a store-bought rotisserie bird, but roasted does well too, and sometimes we’ll substitute whatever other leftover meat is in the fridge. If I’m lucky, I’ll already have some bacon made in advance, but most of the time I have to cook it fresh, which is easy enough in the microwave. Then it’s another tortilla on top. I bake it in a preheated oven at 350°F (175°C), checking every couple of minutes, until it is warmed through and the cheese is nice and melted. If we’re feeling particularly fancy, I’ll serve it with sliced avocado and sour cream (lactose-free again for me), and a salad. That’s all there is to it, really!

I know, I know, people who like genuine Mexican food are probably squirming by now. There aren’t even any onions or peppers or anything in this to give it any spice! And I do agree. This is Kraft Dinner to homemade macaroni and cheese, Wonder Bread to a fresh-baked loaf of rye. But it’s quick, it’s easy, it uses up leftovers, it’s not too unhealthy (especially when paired with veggies of some kind), it’s miles better for you than fast food… And some days that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

Chicken Pot Pie Noodles

Last night I wanted to try something new for dinner, but I didn’t want something that would take forever and a day to prepare. The perfect compromise was the Chicken Pot Pie Noodles recipe from Delish that came across my Facebook feed the other day.

It was as easy as promised, although it did take me a bit longer because I had to cook the chicken beforehand — but that was just a matter of throwing some chicken legs and thighs on a roasting pan, seasoning them, and putting them on a roasting pan at 350°F (175°C) for about 45 minutes. This recipe would be much faster if I had precooked chicken, and I think it would be a great way to use up leftovers. I had to make my version dairy-free, so I substituted margarine for butter and coconut milk for heavy cream. I’ve found in the past that these are good replacements, and they worked just as well as expected. There was a slight flavour of coconut to the sauce, which isn’t strongly spiced, but that didn’t bother me. Also, I used macaroni instead of egg noodles, just because that’s what I had in the pantry, and it worked just fine.

Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely! I think it’s a great addition to my weeknight repertoire.

Beef Stroganoff Recipe

I’ve been making beef stroganoff for fifteen years or so, but I hadn’t had any since a consultation with a dietician who suggested that I may be lactose intolerant. It’s been about a year since I started avoiding lactose, and my gut is much happier for it. I’m not touting this as something that everyone should try, since I know that there are a whole lot of people that tolerate lactose just fine — but sadly, I’m no longer one of them.

Lately I’ve been quite happy to discover that, in addition to the vegetarian/vegan options to milk that are out there, a few dairy companies have started to sell lactose-free versions of their products. I’ve found PC lactose-free old and marble cheddars in my local grocery store, and, for the first time just this week, Gay Lea’s lactose-free sour cream. As soon as I saw the sour cream on the shelf, I knew that I had to make some stroganoff this week.

Now, I’m not vouching for the authenticity of my stroganoff or anything. I can’t even remember where I first learned how to make it; it certainly wasn’t from someone who taught me in person. My version is the combination of a number of recipes over the years that have created what I’d consider to be a good meal for when you have a little bit of time to cook, but you still have other plans for the evening. It’s full of mushrooms and onions, but I recommend serving it with steamed veggies or a side salad to round it out. At the very least, this will add a splash of colour, since stroganoff is such a beige dish!

Beef Stroganoff
Serves 4-6 adults

In a large, deep frying pan, heat at medium-high:
2 Tbsp canola or sunflower oil
Into the heated oil, place:
1 yellow onion, chopped (about 120g before peeling & chopping)
Cook the onion gently until slightly browned, then add:
1 package of cremini mushrooms (227g)*
Cook until mushrooms begin to soften, then add:
450g steak or chopped roast chopped into bite-sized pieces with the fat trimmed off
Stir it all together, then sprinkle over the mixture:
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
Cook until the meat is browned on the outside and medium (pink, but not bloody) in the middle. While the meat is cooking, cook according to package directions:
2 cups of dried pasta
Traditionally stroganoff is made with broad egg noodles, but in our house we usually use penne. Rotini, fusilli, farfalle, and even elbow macaroni (pictured) also work well. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and set it aside.
Once the meat is cooked, add to the pan:
1 cup sour cream (14% or greater) (regular or lactose-free)
Optionally, you can add:
1/4 cup cream cheese (optional)**
Stir the sour cream and cheese in until they are evenly distributed and have created a sauce; the sauce will have picked up some of the browning and spice and will have turned a nice light brown.
Add the drained pasta to the pan, and stir it all together until coated. Serve!

*You can add more mushrooms (up to double as much if you like), but this is the amount that my family prefers.
**I used to make my stroganoff with cream cheese every time, since I find it’s much creamier this way, but I have yet to find a lactose-free version. So for now I make it without.

Wonton Soup

Last night the girls were off to Guiding, so I needed to make a quick and easy dinner. It was still wet and rainy, so I thought that it would be a nice idea to have some soup. I’ve been making a point of turning my frozen stockpile of bones (left over from roasts and rotisserie meals) into broth, so I used some of my recently-made chicken broth to make up some wonton soup.

There wasn’t really a recipe as such. I threw some of the leftover chicken from Family Day, some baby bok choy, and a generous sprinkle of salt into the broth while I brought it to a boil. Then I added a couple of handfuls of fully-cooked chicken & cilantro mini wontons (bought at Costco) and cooked them for about two minutes. The broth didn’t need much seasoning because the wontons themselves are bursting with flavour — a very cilantro-based flavour, so I’m really lucky that none of us have that gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. And that was that!

Avocado Pasta Sauce: Second Try

Yesterday was another busy day, followed by a trip to Costco as soon as the girls got home. The trip took over two hours; I can never get out of that place in a reasonable amount of time! Luckily, Thing 1 and Thing 2 were very patient, which couldn’t possibly have anything whatsoever to do with the plethora of food samples that they were able to try. By the time I finished at the store and drove home, I had eaten significantly into the time that I usually use to prepare dinner. Something quick and easy was in order.

I have to say that the Avocado Pasta Sauce that I wrote about earlier this week is definitely a quick and easy dish. In the time that it takes to boil up the pasta (assuming you’re using dried — fresh stuff only takes a couple of minutes), the sauce is done. Since the sauce only requires prepping a few veggies and running them through a blender, it’s also very simple. This time I took my own advice and added a generous handful of fresh basil and cilantro to the mix, along with a bit more pasta water to thin it all out. I was much happier with the flavour this way — it wasn’t so plain! I sliced a few cherry tomatoes and tossed them in with the pasta and sauce as well for a bit of an acid zing. I also discovered that a generous shake of Parmesan cheese tops this dish nicely. (I’d suggest using a bit more salt and pepper if you’re going to forego the dairy.)

I served the avocado sauce on penne basically because it was the only wheat-based pasta that we had in the house (I didn’t think it would go terribly well on vermicelli or soba noodles). For the meat, I just carved up a rotisserie chicken that I’d picked up at Costco while I was there. It was a tasty and satisfying meal that was whipped up in the amount of time that it takes to boil some pasta. Not bad!

Not Really Sticky Pork Stir-Fry

My brother’s main Christmas gift to me this year was the Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (2017). I don’t know if he picked it because he’d been perusing my blog for gift ideas. Maybe it was because he heard me gushing about Oliver after watching yet another interview with him like this one with Russell Howard, which had me in stitches. At any rate, the first recipe that I wanted to try out (okay, after the Ginger Shakin’ Beef, which I didn’t originally know was from this book) was the Sticky Port Stiry-Fry on page 220.

I used regular old carrots sliced small instead of the mixed-colour baby heirloom carrots specified in the recipe, mainly because none of the grocery stores around here had anything so fancy this time of year. Being a hardy root vegetable, you can get standard orange carrots pretty cheap here all year ’round. However, baby/heirloom carrots are only a summer thing unless you’re willing to pay through the nose for imports. If it doesn’t store well, or there isn’t a high enough demand (or price point) to make it worthwhile to ship it from down south, it can’t be found during the winter. Produce variety suffers greatly in Canada once it gets cold — and it’s a million times worse outside of the cities! And yet the selection and availability is miles better than it used to be, even in my lifetime. I watched a program a while back (Tales from the Green Valley) which recreated a 1600’s British farm: the kind of place where my ancestors would have lived. It really struck me that at one point the narrator says, “After several days, the February snow is finally melting in the valley.” A couple of days of snow. My poor, poor ancestors, who came to Canada after being used to winters like that, with such things as “winter growth” in the fields, and then trying to survive in Canada. It’s a wonder that I am here today, quite honestly.

Back to the recipe: I do have one quibble with it: the portions. The cookbook says that this dish serves 4. Honestly, if I hadn’t prepared any sides (and the recipe doesn’t say “to be served over rice” or anything), my family would have been very, very hungry. I’d say that, by itself, this recipe serves two at most. I ate mine with a side of steamed spinach, but I think that the stir-fry would have gone even better over rice or noodles to stretch it.

Now, here is why I called this entry “Not Really Sticky Pork Stir-Fry”: my husband and I kind of messed it up. Not quantity-wise, that we triple-checked. No, we messed up the sauce. You see, my husband was stirring the food while I was chopping ingredients, and I passed him a bottle and asked him to add what I thought was teriyaki sauce to the dish. Instead, I accidentally gave him the oyster sauce. Assuming that I knew what I was doing, he didn’t read the label on the bottle until after he’d added the sauce to the carrots and pork. In my defense, your honour, the bottles look practically identical, as the above photo shows. Luckily my hubby caught the mistake before we added the honey, which I think would have been disastrous. As it was, the oyster sauce on the pork, carrots, and green onions tasted really good. So if you’re ever looking to change this recipe up, just omit the honey and swap teriyaki for oyster.

Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely yes, with the aforementioned changes: a side dish (or doubling the quantities), and actually using the correct sauce. It was tasty, cheap, easy, and quick, which definitely makes me want to have it again, especially on busy weeknights.