dinner

Crockpot Cashew Chicken

In our area, back to school is coming up fast. Today, we took our exchange student school supply shopping and just days ago, the last of Zach’s curriculum arrived for the year. There’s no shortage of planning and preparing for the school year, and that means a whole lot of busy days ahead, both as we soak up the last days of summer and prepare for the school year, and in the days ahead where we’re going to be teaching, working, and keeping the house clean.

Luckily, I have a crock pot. And trust me, I use it and use it often. I love being able to use my crock pot to keep meals easy, and starting a meal early means I get to work on other things and not worry about dinner.

I love this recipe that my grandmother gave me. She said she found it online, and, after doing a little searching, it looks like it is modified from Campbell’s themselves. Start with 5-6 chicken breasts, a can of Campbell’s cream of chicken soup, some onion, some green onion, a little soy sauce, and the cashews and chow mein noodles. Cook the chicken breasts first. Even better, you can pre-cook these another night and refrigerate. I try to make a chicken dish a day or two before this one, then refrigerate the cooked chicken until the day of this meal. Then, you have even less day-of prep!

Chop your chicken, onion, and green onion. You could also choose to do this before the day you’re cooking to eliminate your day-of prep.

Spray your crock pot with some non-stick cooking spray, then load in all of the ingredients except the rice and the chow mein noodles. I typically leave out one of the cans of cashews in order to reserve them for a topping at the end.

Stir in the soup and soy sauce, coating the ingredients. It might look a little strange, but I promise, it’s so delicious! Turn your crock pot on low for 5-9 hours, or set it on high for 2-3 hours. It’s just long enough to get the kids through the day on low, or enough to take care of those “oh, shoot! I just got home and realized I forgot to turn on the crock pot!” moments on high.

Finish your meal with a little cooked rice and some crunchy chow mein noodles, along with the rest of the cashews.

 

Crock Pot Cashew Chicken

5-6 breasts cooked chicken, diced
1/2 Cup diced onion
1/2 Cup diced green onion
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 can cream of chicken soup
Cashews
Chow mein noodles
Rice
Non-stick cooking spray

Spray the inside of the crock pot with non-stick cooking spray.
Combine all ingredients except chow mein noodles in crock pot.
Cook 5-9 hours on low, or on high for 2-3 hours.
Serve over rice, with chow mein noodles and additional cashews for crunch.

In the mood for Asian food? Check out more dishes inspired by the far East by looking at my Ramen Slaw or my Dipped Almond Cookies.

 

Are you a crock pot fan? Do you use yours year-round or in winter? Let me know your crock pot habits in the comments below!

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Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta Bake

If y’all have been around the blog a day or two, you know I love the chicken, bacon, and ranch combo. They’re flavors that were just made for each other! So, when it came time to make dinner the other night and I had no idea what to make, I needed to see what I had in my pantry and fridge. I came up with a few items that made a big impact, and it all started with the chicken, bacon, and ranch I had on hand.

Start with what’s pictured above. A lot of the ingredients are delicious, common, and you may even have them on hand.

Cook your pasta– I always do about half a cup for each family member, plus an extra half cup (so we have leftovers). While it’s cooking, dice your chicken and begin cooking it in a skillet. Again, I do one chicken tender piece (smaller than a breast) per family member, plus one extra.

Once the chicken is cooked, place it in a bowl and set it aside, then put your peppers and onions in the skillet. The bell peppers can be whatever you have on hand or on sale. I happened to have already cut 4 different colors of bell peppers for pizza night the night before and had leftovers.

Saute the peppers in a little bit of olive oil until the peppers and onions are tender and the onions are translucent. Remove them from the skillet and set aside.

Add a little bit of butter to the skillet and saute your mushrooms. I like to use sliced baby bellas, but you can use any kind of mushroom you prefer. You’ll want them tender and cooked.

Now, you’ll make your sauce. Take your alfredo sauce (it’s a 15 oz container of Bertolli) and one packet of Hidden Valley Ranch mix, and pour the ranch into the alfredo sauce. I give it a quick stir with a knife before I put the lid back on and shake-shake-shake until it’s well mixed.

In a casserole dish, combine your bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, pasta, chicken, and the package of bacon pieces, stirring in the alfredo ranch sauce.

Add mozzarella cheese and Italian seasoned breadcrumbs on top, then bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes to get the cheese melted and the top crispy. It’s all fully cooked beforehand, so the bake is just to help those flavors meld together a bit more.

The best thing about this recipe is that it’s less recipe, more idea… you can make just enough servings for one person (half a cup of pasta, a chicken tenderloin, a small handful of veggies, baked in the dish), or you can double or triple it for a family. I use a full jar of sauce to make dinner for 6 in a 9×13 pan, but you can use more sauce or less sauce to taste. It would be very easy for me to say “This is how you make it,” but this recipe is so flexible that giving a recipe does it a disservice. Follow the steps, eyeball the ingredients, and I promise, it’ll be perfect every time.

My favorite way to serve it is with homemade garlic knots. And the best part? You can serve it with homemade garlic knots, too! I’ll be sharing the recipe later today on Facebook, so be sure to go over and like me on facebook so you can see the recipe!

 

Do you love the chicken, bacon, ranch combo? You’ll love my chicken bacon ranch foil packets!

What’s your favorite flavor combo for dinner?

 

Campfire Favorites: Beef and Veggie Hobo Packs

Not too long ago, a rule was made that my brother had to pitch in with dinner sometimes. Now, my brother is a pretty good cook, but like all of us, he likes easy, and a lot of times, he sticks to the tried-and-true. So much so that we quickly realized that any nights where it was Jeffrey’s turn to cook, we either got waffles, or we got hobo packs. I started watching him making the hobo packs (as we affectionately call them, but apparently foil packet meal or foil packet dinner also works), and realized why he loved making them so much. They were easy. They were delicious. And most of all, they were versatile. With a family full of picky people, versatile is important.

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Campfire Favorites: Chicken Bacon Ranch Foil Packet Dinner

Summer… it’s the perfect time for campfires, grilling, and all things… well, summery. Growing up, we had these great summer dinners that were easy, no-mess, and delicious. The best part, of course, being that they were no-mess. Who really likes cleaning up after dinner when they could be enjoying an evening swim or lounging outside by a fire pit? I love foil dinners. They’re so versatile, whether you’re making them in the oven or on the grill, or even on that campfire. But I needed a new foil packet dinner to add into my repertoire, particularly one that had a few of my favorite things… like chicken, bacon, and mushrooms.

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Pollo Magnifico–For the Freezer!

I love going out to eat. I think a lot of that is because we just so rarely do go out, so when we do, it’s a real treat. Almost every time that I get to pick where we go, I ask to go to Jose Peppers, because I’m addicted to a certain item on their menu… Pollo Magnifico. It makes sense why they’d call it that. It really is a magnificent chicken dish. At Jose Peppers, they’re sharing seasoned shredded chicken wrapped in a tortilla, then slathered with a jalapeno cream cheese, sprinkled with cheese, and then baked. I love the flavor, but I needed something that would freeze well, and I knew individually sauced tops wouldn’t. For me, that can only mean one thing… it was time to get creative. So, I made this Pollo Magnifico copycat that tastes just like the real thing, but freezes well with no sauce on top.

Start with everything pictured… 3 chicken breasts, 8 burrito-sized tortillas, 2 packages of Cream Cheese (I like Philadelphia), a package of Mexican Blend Cheese (I like Kraft), and tomato and lettuce to garnish. Because I was serving it to people who just didn’t love spice, I left out one jalapeno, so you’ll want to add a finely diced jalapeno in. If you’re still not a fan of spice, you can nix the jalapeno and use taco seasoning instead, or you can do without either and dip it in salsa. It’s your choice, and all of the options will have a great result.

Start by shredding and seasoning your cooked chicken breasts. If you have jalapenos, now is the time to add them in.

Now, mix in the two packages cream cheese and one cup of the shredded cheese. You’ll reserve the other half for a garnish later. Once the mixture is thoroughly blended together, I like to smooth it out and use a knife to make lines so I know about how much to put in each tortilla. But you can totally eyeball it. I’m just really obsessed with filling them all exactly the same.

Spoon your filling onto your burrito-sized tortilla. There’s just enough filling for the 8 tortillas that come in the package Great Value sells, but if you have more or less tortillas, it’s easy to adjust the recipe. Because these freeze very well, you could bake a month’s worth for lunches and then seal them in an airtight bag or container.

Fold the tortilla envelope-style around the mixture, as shown in the steps above. You’ll be placing the tortilla envelopes seam-side down on a pam-sprayed cookie sheet.

Spraying the tops lightly with the cooking spray will also help them brown nicely. Preheat the oven to 350, and bake them for 15 minutes on one side.

Turn them over and you’ll see that they’re browning nicely and the tortillas will now stay shut. Bake another 15 minutes. This allows the cheese inside to melt, as well as the cream cheese, which will ensure that these get the same flavor as that delicious Jose Peppers recipe, but without the mess of a sauced top.

Once they’re done baking, allow any that you’re freezing to cool so they can be frozen and microwaved later. For those that you’re eating immediately, sprinkle the hot tops with cheese so it’ll melt.

Dinner is served. And lunch. And every day you want these after that. They’re so easy to prepare and they’re delicious, restaurant-style stuff. Plus, they pack nicely in a lunch and can be eaten cold or hot. You can’t lose with these.

Of course, making this Pollo Magnifico copycat doesn’t change my choice when we go out to eat. I’ll still be going to Jose Peppers for dinner… maybe I’ll even branch out and order something different! (I wouldn’t bet on it, though…)

 

 

Looking for more easy dinners? Try out my Southwest Chicken and Rice Bake or 3 Different Twists on Pigs in a Blanket! Want to get your family chatting around the table? I have some ideas for opening up dinnertime conversation, too.

What’s your favorite meal to eat when you have the chance to go out to eat? Do you always eat the same thing, or pick something different each time? Let me know in the comments below!

Southwest Chicken and Rice Bake

I like easy dinners. I mean really easy dinners. With Jeffrey playing soccer non-stop, Zach having a great Music and Movement class, and all of the other day-to-day life, sometimes it is almost dinner time and I’ve forgotten to even think about dinner. It has nothing to do with me having trouble putting down the book I’m reading or anything. It’s totally everyone’s schedules. I swear.

Anyway, this dinner is so ridiculously easy that I can’t believe I didn’t make it sooner.

Start out with three-ish chicken breasts. It’s not an exact science. I used 3 because I had 3 thawed, but if they’re really big, use two. If they’re tiny, use more. You’ll also need 3 bags of Birds Eye Steamfresh Specially Seasoned Southwestern Style Rice. It is seasoned, and has bell peppers, onions, and corn already in it. You’ll also want to check into Campbell’s Great for Cooking Soups– a can of Cream of Chicken and a can of Cheddar Cheese soup are perfect. Add in a drained can of Rotel and you’re golden. I used Mild Rotel because my family just can’t take the spice, but if your family is able to handle it, by all means, load that puppy up with some Hot Rotel (or at least Original).

Cook the chicken fully, then shred it into bite-sized pieces.

Pour the still-frozen rice in and break it up. Yes, it will be a little bit icy– that’s part of how it steams. This will cook into the food when you bake the dish. Now, mix in your chicken.

You’re on the home stretch now with this dish… stir in the two great for cooking soups and the drained Rotel, then pop the casserole in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes, until the casserole is hot and bubbly.

It serves 6-8 people, and it’s so quick and easy to make that you’ll be out of the kitchen and back to reading… I mean, uh, driving the kids around to all of their stuff… in a heartbeat.

Love easy recipes? Try my Tuscan Sausage and Bean Soup, Pollo Magnifico Freezer Meal, or Hearty Cheeseburger Soup!

What’s your go-to “I forgot to cook dinner!” recipe? Share it in the comments below!

Family Dinner Conversation: 5 Totally Doable Ideas to Get Your Family Talking Around the Table

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Growing up, my mom made sure that we all spent dinner together at the end of the day, eating around the table. She worked very hard to make the kitchen feel like a safe haven to come home, study, enjoy that meal together, and converse. But even with all her effort, it seemed that many times, we’d sit down to the table and she would work very hard to ask us about our day, only to be met with one word answers and imaginary cricket noises as no one spoke.

Luckily, she had a few surefire ways of beating the imaginary crickets and getting us chatting around the table. With her example, and some new ideas, you’ll be able to shake up your dinner time conversation and get people talking around the table, banishing silence in the kitchen for good!

Pick a Stick, Any Stick— Have each member of the family write down 2 or 3 conversation topics before dinner time and leave them in a mason jar. After everyone dips their food, pass the jar around the table. Have someone draw a stick out and read the question aloud. Take time to let everyone answer and discuss. Don’t stress if you go through the sticks really fast, and don’t stress if it takes you weeks to go through them. Let the conversation flow naturally and take however much time is needed. If you get off on a tangent or another conversation, that’s totally okay! These are just a way to jumpstart!

Thankful Year Round— You know how some families have that tradition of going around the table and telling what they’re thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner? Well, you don’t have to JUST reserve that for fall. Develop a spirit of thanksgiving in your home by asking everyone what they’re thankful for that very day. Whether you’re thankful for making it to work on time for a change, or you’re thankful that your kids didn’t kill each other that day, or whether your kids are thankful that they didn’t lose their lunch money or are thankful for a few extra minutes of video game time, take time to notice the little things you’re thankful for each day.

The Family that Serves Together— Plan a family service project at dinner. Talk about how you can help fill a need you see in your community and take time making an action plan on how and when you’ll do the service project. Stay open to ideas from everyone, then find something that suits the whole family. Have more than one good idea? Plan to do more than one act of service in your area!

Ban Tech at the Table!— It may seem like a no-brainer, but technology at the table is a total conversation killer. Whether the teens are texting, the tots are Netflixing, or mom and dad are checking the calendar, by making the dinner table a tech-free zone, you’re opening the door to open conversation and allowing open communication at the dinner table.

Get Rid of One-Words— Do you ever feel frustration when you ask your child “How was your day?” and get “Fine,” or ask “What did you learn today?” and hear “Nothing.”? Get rid of the one-word answers by asking an open-ended question, such as “Tell me one bad thing and one good thing that happened to you today.” This will keep you more engaged with your child’s life, and help you draw a little more than just a one-word answer out of your kids. Make sure you’re prepared to answer the question, too, in case one of your kids puts you on the spot!