Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Quick and Easy Chicken Dinner



One time last spring my sister was out of ideas for dinner.  I twas past due for a grocery shop so it seemed every one of our go to meals was either missing a crucial ingredient or the meat was frozen solid.  So I started rummaging in the fridge, freezer and cupboard to get an idea of what was available.  By the time I was done I had a concept.

I'd started with tomato sauce since she had recently bought a large carton of it at Costgo.  Surely there was something I could do with tomato sauce.  We use it to make soup but usually that is a simple tomato soup spiced with one or another of the Mrs Dash seasonings and stretched by adding water 1:1 and then thickened back up with tapioca flour.  But we have made a hearty taco soup with burrito leftovers before.

That was the vague concept I began with but we hadn't had burritos or nachos recently and if we'd had the ingredients for them I wouldn't be foraging for a new idea.  So I began by looking for likely items to put in a hearty soup.  But when I came across the package of frozen chicken breasts a lit up picture as tho in a slide show popped into my head.

I've made this two or three times a month ever since.  It is simple and quick and something I can do without any help.  Tho the first time I had my nephew pull it out of the oven for me.  With my tunnel vision I can't see the oven edges or even the racks when looking at the dish I"m reaching for.  Which makes it nerve wracking to put things in or pull things out of a hot oven.

Step 1:  I've never made it the same twice.  The first time and one other I've steamed the zucchini on the stove while the chicken dish was in the oven.  But the simplest way is to layer the zucchini on the bottom of the shallow backing pan.  I've experimented with different cuts.  The first few times I used the coin shape.

But I discovered that cutting it lengthwise in quarter inch strips was faster.  But this time the zucchini was very long and I should have cut those strips in half to make it possible to lift out a serving by sliding a spatula under the zucchini under the chicken piece.

Step 2:  Lay the chicken pieces on top.  I've done this with several cuts and sizes of chicken breasts.  These were called chicken tenders and were smallish and thin and many of them had broken in two while frozen.

Several times I've come close to frostbite on my fingers after handling the frozen piece to put the jigsaw puzzle together.

Step 3:  Usually, for a meal intended for 4-6 (or 4 plus leftovers for 2) I use two of the 15oz cans of tomato sauce.  But this time I had only one can and I tried to stretch it by adding water but was too impatient to bring it to a boil to add the tapioca flour to thicken it back up so I ended up with real soupy sauce this time.

Last night I seasoned it with Mrs Dash Tomato, Basil, Garlic which makes it taste much like spaghetti sauce.  But my favorite seasoning is the pizza flakes which are primarily crushed and dried red peppers.  That makes it taste like pizza but is quite spicy.  Another way I like is to use Mexican flavors--chili, jalapeno, cilantro, onion, garlic.

Step 4:  I thought I'd got a picture of this step too but either I forgot or it didn't take for some reason.  But the last step before putting it into an oven preheated to 375 is to spread cheese across the top.  You could use any of the cheeses or even combine them.  And you can use either shredded or sliced.  We usually use shredded mozzarella but we have used shredded Colby and shredded cheddar and the Mexican yellow and white blend which I believe is mozzarella and cheddar.

Last night I used the shredded mozzarella and was quite generous with it spreading over a cup of it on, hoping to compensate for the over sauce.

Step 5:  Bake for 50 minutes to an hour depending on the thickness of the frozen chicken pieces.  I usually set the timer for 45 and then check it, estimating how much longer it might need.  One time when using quite large chicken breast that were nearly half an inch thick and so big that only five would fit it took an hour and 15 minutes.  The sauce should be boiling and the cheese melted and starting to brown on top.  And the fork should slide easily into and back out of the thickest piece of chicken so I try to remember to place that one in one of the front corners.

The first time I described this dish to my husband he told me that I'd just made Chicken Cacciatore substituting the zucchini.

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