Monthly Archives: May 2015

REVISITING THE RANCH: KING RANCH CHICKEN CASSEROLE

My healthy version of King Ranch Chicken posted three years ago is still my favorite, but I wondered if I could make it “hasty” without sacrificing the “tasty” part of the meal.

I consulted my good friend Betty (as in Betty Crocker) and her version takes shortcuts I decided to try. The biggest difference in my version and hers is my casserole soaks in the refrigerator for several hours before baking. Mine also has more ingredients. So if you’d like to make this casserole for your next covered dish dinner and you’re short on time, try Betty Crocker’s version. It’s tasty enough for my family, and a bit less work for me, although I still have to have my fresh cilantro garnish at the end.  😉

Remove from oven and top with chopped cilantro.

Remove from oven and top with chopped cilantro.

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Oodles of Noodles=Low-calorie Fun.

Too much cooking and too much eating have led to too much weight! While I hate the word diet, I’m on one now to drop pounds. A recent addition to my kitchen gadget collection is a vegetable spiral slicer. Many brands are available. I chose a handheld model by Spiralife.

The spiral slicer creates several long strands of vegetable pasta.

The spiral slicer creates several long strands of vegetable pasta.

I love pasta dishes, so the concept of creating vegetable ribbons as a substitute for spaghetti appeals to me. Vegetable noodles save me approximately 200 calories per serving when substituted for my whole wheat or semolina spaghetti. What a fun way to sneak more nutrition and fiber in my diet. 😀

For my first adventure in spiral slicing, I steamed a squash medley for a side dish. Using one yellow squash and one zucchini, I produced enough “noodles” for two pasta dishes or three side dishes. I tossed with a tablespoon of butter for a side, but next time I plan to use a pesto sauce for an entrée.

Steam pasta over low heat just until tender. Or you can boil it if you don't have minimum-moisture cookware.

Steam pasta over low heat just until tender. Or you can boil it if you don’t have minimum-moisture cookware.

A side of squash medley served with chicken and mashed potatoes.

A side of squash medley served with chicken and mashed potatoes.

The handheld Spiralife® is great for round vegetables, like carrots, zucchini, and yellow squash. It isn’t designed for onions or broccoli, which is no problem because a pasta substitute should have a mild taste. I enjoy a medley of flavors, so I blend squashes with a carrot. In the past, I’ve created veggie curls using an ordinary vegetable peeler. This new gadget speeds up the process.

Bottom line: The Spiralife is worth the purchase. I may even consider upgrading to a fancier model!

Handheld vegetable spiral slicer by Spiralife

Handheld vegetable spiral slicer by Spiralife

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Filed under cooking, Healthful Eating, pasta, Zucchini

Slow Cooked Chicken Makes a Hasty Tasty Meal

My friend recently asked why I bought the new 6-quart slow cooker when I already had the 4-quart model and typically cook for just two people. Here’s my answer.

One of my Hasty Tasty Meals strategies is cooking ahead, and slow cooking allows you to maximize your cooking with little fuss. A larger pot is roomy enough to hold several different foods.

My favorite cook-ahead meal is a chicken. If my pan is large enough, I can start with enough potatoes to make two days’ worth of potatoes. I can cook carrots with the potatoes, giving me two side dishes for two meals. Finally, the chicken flavors and moistens the root vegetables. How efficient. The six-quart size produces a minimum of eight servings of each food.

First, I peel 4 potatoes (Peeling is optional–these russets had tough peels, but I scrub and leave the peels when possible) and cut into uniform pieces, approximately 1″. These go on the pan’s bottom. I top with sliced carrots or, because they were on sale this week, baby-cut carrots. Next, I form a rack for the chicken from two celery ribs and a large onion, quartered.

Season the chicken thoroughly. I use a rub made with 1 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. Kosher salt, ½ tsp. freshly ground pepper, 1 tsp. dried thyme, ½ tsp. dried sage, and 1 Tbsp. paprika. Place the chicken so it rests on the vegetables.

Celery and onions form a roasting rack.

Celery and onions form a roasting rack.

Cover and cook on High for 4 – 5 hours. That’s it. Just ten minutes of prep and you’re free to run errands or do other chores. If it makes you nervous to use a dry pot, add a cup of water or broth. I don’t. The chicken and vegetables produce enough liquid to make a pan gravy before serving if you desire. (Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pan. Then whisk in 1 Tbsp. corn starch dissolved in ½ cup cooled broth or water. Boil to thicken and season to taste.)

The six-quart Gourmet Cooker by Kitchen Craft Cookware

The six-quart Gourmet Cooker by Kitchen Craft Cookware

If serving the same meal twice in one week doesn’t appeal to you, switch it up with other vegetables. For instance, I added a side of broccoli one day and green beans the other. I served biscuits once and dinner rolls once. I whipped half the potatoes, and stirred half in with the green beans. Finally, I didn’t serve the chicken meals consecutive days, although we aren’t averse to chicken two days in a row.

Don’t limit your slow-cooking to beef roasts or stews. Try cooking ahead a mix of foods. You won’t feel like you’re eating leftovers, and you’ll spend less time in the kitchen. Enjoy the food and extra time.

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Filed under chicken, cooking