Slow-cooked chicken casserole

Much as I love my slow cooker (aka crock pot), my results can be a little hit and miss. Yesterday’s attempts at a fairly simple chicken casserole, however, were so amazing that I had to scribble down my recipe (here) so I can do this one again!

slow cooked chicken casserole

First to mention, I have one of the smaller-sized slow cookers (about 1.5 litres, I think), which is supposed to be a 2-portion version. However, I tend to cook my accompaniment separately (shout out for frozen mashed potatoes, btw!) which means I get 3 or even 4 portions out of a batch – certainly, 4 out of this batch!

Starting with chicken – I suppose I’m a little ‘mean’ with this, using less than 1 breast per person, but I like to balance it with more veg – I used carrots, parsnip, and leek as my veggies. Top tip: leave the carrots far more chunky than you would usually – the slow cooker makes them lovely and tender, and it’s nice to have a substantial ‘chunk’ as an added feature in the meal. This is pretty important, in my view, to balance the super-tender chicken which can flake into next to nothingness after a long cook. The leeks also more or less vanished into the sauce, along with the onion which I’d only added for flavour.

Flavour was the big aim for this dish. First, a splash of white wine. I’d advise going easy on this – wine can turn a little bitter in a slow cooker, I’ve found. Then some herbs and spices: a little garlic puree, a splash of (vegetarian, so fish-free) worcestershire sauce for that ‘umami-ness’, and a good shake of chicken seasoning (I have the Swartz spice one) – these are all rather unspecific, my apologies, but the phrase ‘to taste’ is a saver here 😉

I’m a recent convert to the ‘stock pot’ style of stock (no, I don’t make my own!), and used about ⅔ of one – the rest will go into my risotto tomorrow. I also added some chicken gravy powder – just a little, for flavour and, I’d hoped, a little thickness – no measurement to share, sorry! Add enough cold water to cover the ingredients to about ⅔ – too much liquid is a common mistake (for me!) with slow cooking. Mix it all well, especially trying to distribute the stock.

I’d prepped all this the night before, so as I was heading out to work I put the crock pot on low and left it for about 8 hours. The house smelled amazing when I got back last night!

Alas, I hadn’t quite got the liquid right, so it was looking fairly running – don’t panic! As I stirred, a lot of the chicken broke up, and the leeks broke down, both adding a little thickness. I also added some cornflour – mixed with a little cold water – and left the whole thing uncovered on high for about half an hour while I prepared the rest of the meal. I know some people find the point of slow cooking to have the entire meal in ‘one pot’ fashion, but I like the extra portion of ‘main’ and a little separation for the sides. Besides, frozen mashed potato is surprisingly nice, and ready in a few minutes!

Rather impressed myself with this one – for a ‘made up’ recipe, it was absolutely delicious! 🙂

Let’s talk stir fry!

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One of my frequent dinners is stir fry: quicky, easy, healthy. I’m also of the opinion that not every meal has to be from a recipe, and the busy cook shouldn’t have to feel guilty about taking shortcuts – like buying a sauce. That said, every bought sauce can be improved a little…! I’m currently partial to the Blue Dragon sachets (esp. sweet chilli or teryaki) and then jazz it up with a little extra garlic and ginger, and maybe soy sauce.

The base of my stir fries is veg: lots and lots of vegetables! It’s not a stir fry to me without carrots, onion, peppers, mange tout, and then maybe some broccoli or pak choi or bean sprouts. Bean sprouts are rare: they only come in such huge bags that a single person would struggle to get through!

Once in a very blue moon, I’ve been known to buy a pre-prepared pack of stir fry veg. These are for those ultra-lazy moments, or when I’m craving a bit of a shake up. I love the ones that come with sliced water chestnuts – for the crunch! – or bamboo shoots. I used to buy tins of these things, but again they can be difficult to get through for one.

Even if you’re preparing your own veg – and I find chopping vegetables quite meditative (call me odd, but it’s calming!) – do yourself a favour and do at least two portions. This means you get a prep-free meal in a day or two, and lets you split things like peppers and carrots between two meals.

For the protein, I use either diced chicken breast (I pre-dice it, and freeze in individual portions), sliced minute steak (the really thin kind), or tofu – the Cauldron marinated tofu is excellent. I also like to throw in a small handful of raw cashew nuts towards the end.

So, today’s stir fry adventure went like this: first heat a little oil in a wok – big wok! – and cook the chicken until starting to colour. Then add the onion for a few minutes – it needs a little extra, I find – along with some garlic puree. I then added the rest of the sliced veg and some ground ginger or puree, letting it all fry for a few minutes before adding half a sachet of Blue Dragon teryaki sauce – the other half keeps well in the freezer, fyi. Finally a scattering of cashew nuts before serving, with rice or noodles. Total time: 10 minutes (not including the rice)!

Tl;dr:

  • oodles of veg – and prep ahead of time; keep a second portion in a sealed tub in the fridge for a day or two
  • freeze individual portions of pre-diced chicken breast for a quick make – defrost in the microwave if you can’t plan ahead
  • no shame in using a bought sauce! 2-portion sachets can often have the second half frozen, even if the packet doesn’t mention it
  • spice up the sauce with a little extra garlic, ginger, soy, chilli flakes, lime juice, or even a splash of sherry – and these are just a few of the possibilities!
  • serve with rice or noodles – the latter make the whole dish take about 10 minutes to cook.

Let me know in the comments – what do YOU do with a stir fry?

stirfry

Spicy tomato chicken

spicy tomato chicken

Spring is here, and it’s past time I added some more main courses to this site – not to mention dispelling the myth that I’m vegetarian!

Most of my recipes fall into the ‘batch cooking’ category – single portions can seem like too much effort. This one, however, isn’t really freezable BUT it does make great leftovers for the next day! Today I’ll have this mexican-ish-inspired spicy tomato chicken with rice, then tomorrow’s lunch will be the other portion served in a wrap.

That said, it’s still not the least-effort cooking preparation (cooking: easy as it gets!): in particular, peeling tomatoes can be a bit of a pain. I would totally recommend the effort over using tinned tomatoes, though – the flavour difference is very noticable. See the ‘Top Tip’ on the recipe page for how to make the process much easier!

Another time saving tip is to make this up the night before, and leave it in the fridge marinating. Alternatively, the sauce ‘paste’ will last in a small tub for a couple of days, ready for you to add the chicken and vegetables.

The main bonus for going to all this effort is that this is an uber-healthy meal. From experimenting over the years, I’ve found that you can eliminate the need for added oil with this one, as the combination of the tomato puree and the juices from the tomato work fine from just bunging the whole lot in the pan. More, just because it is very healthy, there is still tons of flavour in this dish! Enjoy 🙂