Monday, October 27, 2008

Solving the What's for Dinner Dilemma

Last month, I joined a friend for our first trip to one of those "we prep, you assemble, we clean, you freeze and cook later" meal places. I think we were the last two working mothers in the world to try this place. I'd thought about it many times, but when I looked at the meal options, I was underwhelmed. More accurately, I always thought "but I could make that myself at home for a lot less than $20/meal." Following a fairly miserable week where "what's for dinner" became an emotionally charged question, I decided to try this option to fill in the gaps between home-cooked balanced meal and frozen pizza.

Overall, I was fairly satisfied and I learned a lot. I learned what kinds of meals to take advantage of in this format (think lots of ingredients, lots of steps) and what kind really don't save you any time (think large cut of meat, frozen with a marinade, to be prepared in a crock pot). I also learned some handy shortcuts (Need to bread chicken? use resealable bags instead of three separate dishes. Put the chicken in the bag with a bit of flour. Seal and shake. Add the egg. Seal and shake. Add the bread crumb mixture. Seal and shake. Sweet.) I also learned that I can do this myself, for much less money, with a bit of planning.

So, in order to help others out there with the "what's for dinner dilemma," I thought I'd periodically offer recipes that I've had good success making in advance (or making twice as much as we'd need for dinner), freezing, and serving at a later date. Please share any tips or recipes you may have as well. I just borrowed this book from the library and hope to find some additional inspiration from it.

For the first recipe in this series, I thought I'd share a family favorite, particularly this time of year. I've adapted the original recipe from Cooking Light to make it easier. This makes a ton. It's a fast weeknight meal and the leftovers freeze beautifully - just cool, put in a freezer-safe ziploc bag, and when you're ready to eat either defrost and bake in a casserole dish or heat in a large pan on the stovetop.

Chicken with Roasted Pears and Wild Rice

2½ cups uncooked specialty wild rice blend (without any spices; you can often find this in the bulk grain section)
2½ cups apple juice
2½ cups low-salt chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds cooked, skinned, boned chicken breasts OR the meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken cut into bite-sized pieces
4 small firm ripe Bosc pears (about 1½ pounds), cored and chopped in to bite-size pieces
1 cup dried cranberries or dried tart cherries
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover large jelly roll pan with nonstick aluminum foil and place pears on pan. Put in oven for 20-25 minutes (until pears soften slightly).

While pears are baking, combine rice, apple juice, and chicken broth in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is almost entirely absorbed.

Combine rice mixture, chicken mixture, pears, cranberries, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Toss gently.


Anna See said...

Yumm! I need to try this. I'm definitely in need of inspiration.

PsychMamma said...

Sounds delicious and easy! I'm adding it to my file. Thanks for sharing!