Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Time Savers

Hi -

I have found, for myself, that if I spend one day a month, or the afternoon after a shopping trip to our Costco, or Sam's Club, that I can get lots of things pre-done, making cooking easier down the road.

For instance - I buy only blocks of cheese, no pre-shredded stuff, and the bags of boneless skinless thighs, and breasts, and then a bag of chicken legs. I also by the massive packages of ground beef/turkey.

Once I'm home, I shred the cheese in the food processor (I actually use my attachment for my Kitchen-Aid mixer), measure out 2 C portions, put it into zip-top freezer bags and date the outside. That way, I can freeze 10 pounds of cheese, but always have it ready to go for casseroles, tacos, or whatever I might need.

I separate the ground meat into 1 - 2 pound portions, and freeze that in bags also. It keeps longer in a freezer bag than in the thin plastic and foam from the grocery, and we can't get a side of beef, pre-wrapped real easily or cheap around here. I tend to brown about half of the meat, and leave the other half uncooked for meatloaf or meatballs.

The chicken (or turkey) parts, I throw into my largest stock pot with an entire onion cut into quarters, some salt, pepper, and enough water to cover the meat. I cook it on low for about 3 hours. Once it has cooled down, I skim anything off the top, shred the meat, and measure it into bags in 1 - 2 pound options (usually about 4 - 6 cups). This way I get a mix of light and dark meat, which makes for good flavor in soups and casseroles. I also save a ton of money not buying the canned stuff.

Each bag gets dated and used in the order that I bought it.

You can season any of the meat ahead of time as well, so if you know you like tacos, you can brown, season and freeze several pounds of meat, so when you want tacos, you just defrost the meat, and warm it through...great for those busy days, or days when things seem to go awry.

Mexican Chicken Bake

This is a yummy casserole that is easy, and uses stuff I mostly keep on hand. It can be spiced up or down depending on your tastes.

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes

1/4 C butter
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles (this is where you get your spice)
2 C Cooked chicken shredded or chopped
10 6-in corn torillas (soft, and you can use flour, but the corn gives it a more robust flavor)
2 C Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese (you can use cheddar, a blend, whatever is your favorite)
1 C sour cream (I substitute plain fat-free yogurt for a healthier option)
1 Tbsp milk
1 small jalpeno, chopped (I use a 4 ounce can of diced chile, or just leave it off)
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped (I don't use this at all)


Preheat your oven to 325 F.
Melt butter in a large skillet, add pepper and onion. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the soup, undrained tomatoes, and chicken. Stir well, and let simmer to blend flavors while you tear the tortillas into bite-sized pieces.

Spray a large casserole with cooking spray. Layer tortillas, chicken mixture, and cheese (Depending on the size of your dish, you may have up to 3 layers).

Mix sour cream, milk and jalapeno, and spread over top of casserole.

Bake until bubbly, around 40 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

This dish is yummy, and tastes really good topped with some shredded lettuce, tomatoes, olives, a little more cheese, OR just as it is. I usually serve salad with this but its filling in its own right.