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Santa Fe Style Chicken & Lentil Casserole

Lentils are such an understated legume. They’re cheap, tasty, and (don’t tell the kids) healthy! Previously, my favorite way to use them had been in a delicious, good-for-you soup. Buuut, a cheesy, skinny casserole?! Move on over soup, Mama’s got a new favorite in town.

Busy day, busy afternoon/evening? This casserole will come to your rescue! Casseroles are great like that, and this one’s no exception.

This recipe delivers a true Santa Fe-style experience straight to your taste buds with lots of cumin, a nice cayenne ‘kick’, and plenty of cilantro. That, combined with the lentils (which we can’t forget were cooked in, not water, but chicken broth!), tender pieces of chicken, and the perfect amount of melted cheese, you’ve got yourself an award winning combination. I promise!

Santa Fe Style Chicken & Lentil Casserole

4 Sons 'R' Us: Santa Fe Style Chicken & Lentil Casserole

recipe adapted from ifoodreal

Lentils
1 + 1/2 cup green lentils, rinsed & drained
3 cups chicken broth, low sodium
1/8 tsp salt

Chicken
2 lbs boneless & skinless chicken breasts, diced
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Cooking spray

Vegetables
1 large onion, diced
5 large garlic cloves, crushed or 5 tsp minced garlic
2 large bell peppers, diced
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix-Ins
14 oz can diced tomatoes with green chiles
2 cups corn, frozen & unthawed
2 cups  Tex Mex or Colby Jacks cheese, shredded & divided
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1 cup cilantro, chopped & divided, or 2 tbsp dried

4 Sons 'R' Us: Santa Fe Style Chicken & Lentil Casserole 2

Look at all those pretty little lentils. Can’t you just hear them calling to you. Eat meeeeeee….

Directions

1. In a medium pot, combine lentils, chicken broth and salt. Bring to a boil on high, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 35 minutes. Do not drain excess liquid. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, preheat large skillet on high and spray with cooking spray. Add chicken and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and draining any liquid if necessary. Add cumin, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper and cook for another 5 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Return skillet to medium-high heat and spray with cooking spray. Add onion, garlic, bell peppers, cumin, salt and cayenne pepper and cook for 7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
4. Transfer to the bowl with chicken along with cooked lentils, diced tomatoes, corn, 1 cup cheese, garlic powder, cumin and 1/2 cup cilantro (or 1 tbsp dried cilantro). Mix gently with spatula enough to combine. You may want to taste and adjust the spiciness/salt of the dish with extra cayenne/cumin or salt.
5. Transfer the mixture to a 9 x 13 baking dish and press gently with spatula to evenly distribute. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake uncovered for 50 mins. Remove casserole from the oven, cover with foil and let stand for half an hour before serving. Garnish with remaining cilantro, cut into 8 slices and serve hot.

Spinach Parmesan Orzo

Sometimes the simplest things taste the best. Just like I sometimes need a break from the rigmarole of everyday life, sometimes my taste buds need a break from complex flavor combinations. This orzo is just the thing for times like that. With a simple, yet creamy, low-fat sauce coating the tiny rice-shaped pasta and wilted spinach, it makes a great side dish, especially with chicken or fish, or even a light main meal.  This is the happy place where health & comfort (food) meet.

Spinach Parmesan Orzo

4 Sons 'R' Us: Spinach Parmesan Orzo

recipe adapted from Life Tastes Good

4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3-4 cups of fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium high heat and add 1 cup orzo. Stir until the orzo is lightly browned/toasted. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the orzo is tender and the liquid is absorbed.
2. While the orzo is simmering it is a good time to prepare the spinach. In a large skillet melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic and saute for about 30 seconds. Add 10 ounces of baby spinach and a pinch of salt. Saute until wilted. Set aside until orzo is done.
3. When orzo is done add the spinach and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and mix well. Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. The Parmesan will add some saltiness to the dish, so be sure to give it a taste to ensure you don’t add too much salt!

Red Enchilada Sauce

Is it normal for someone to get insanely excited about homemade enchilada sauce? Is it? Come on, tell me the truth; you don’t have to spare my feelings. I must be really comfortable with myself to confess that I think I let out a little scream of joy when I stumbled upon this recipe for homemade red enchilada sauce. I don’t think I knew until that moment that I’d been waiting my whole life for this. <Insert choir of angels singing>

I’ve always been a fan of canned enchilada sauces, since they were easy and inexpensive, but then I went homemade. I’m never going back. Believe me, people. This recipe will knock your socks off. Make up a batch and store it in the fridge for later use, or make several and freeze them, thawing as needed.

Be still my enchilada sauce loving heart.

Red Enchilada Sauce

4 Sons 'R' Us: Red Enchilada Sauce

recipe originally from Gimme Some Oven

2 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
2 Tbsp. flour
4 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. oregano
2 cups chicken broth

Directions

1. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.
2. Add flour and stir together over the heat for one minute.
3. Stir in the remaining seasonings (chili powder through oregano).
4. Then gradually add in the chicken broth, whisking constantly to remove lumps.
5. Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes until thick.
6. Use immediately or refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.

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Crockpot Chicken Parmesan Soup

My family loves Chicken Parmesan. I was blown away after my first taste of this soup. It totally lives up to its name and tastes just. like. chicken. parmesan. In a soup! It’s the perfect pick me up, sit down dinner during all this cold, rainy weather we’re having here.

Crockpot Chicken Parmesan Soup

4 Sons 'R' Us: Crockpot Chicken Parmesan Soup

recipe adapted from Foxes Love Lemons

3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 can (14.5 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicy!)
1 cup farfalle pasta
Chopped fresh basil or parsley and/or croutons, for garnish

Directions

1. In slow cooker, stir together garlic, bell pepper, crushed tomatoes, chicken, broth, onion, 1/3 cup cheese, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes. Cook on high 4 hours or on low 8 hours. 30 minutes before end of cooking time, transfer chicken breasts to cutting boardand coarsely shred; return to slow cooker. Stir in pasta.
2. Serve garnished with extra Parmesan cheese, chopped basil or parsley, and croutons.

Healthy Ham & Lentil Soup

I love my Christmas ham. I truly do. It wouldn’t seem like Christmas dinner without it. Even more than a good ham, I love all the leftovers! Typically I dice them up and bag them in meal-sized portions and stock my freezer with them. Even the fat and bone gets saved for flavoring beans and the like. This healthy ham and lentil soup is one of my favorite recipes to use leftover ham in. Hearty and heart-healthy, it’s a perfect after the holidays meal. Once you’re done chopping, walk away while it simmers and relax as the flavors slowly combine. Are you sticking with yoga pants after indulging just a little too much in the past week? Lentils are low in fat, but high in protein and fiber. A perfect way to fill up and fuel up without worrying. Take a deep breath, enjoy a warm bowl of soup, and smile. You’ve made it through another chaotic holiday intact.

Healthy Ham & Lentil Soup

4 Sons 'R' Us: Ham & Lentil Soup

recipe originally from Closet Cooking

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion,chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups ham broth, chicken broth or chicken stock
1 cup lentils
2 cups ham, diced
1 ham bone (optional)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
pepper to taste
1 bunch spinach, rinsed, trimmed and roughly chopped

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a large sauce pan.
2. Add the onions, carrot and celery and saute until tender, about 10-15 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, a few minutes.
4. Add the stock, lentils, ham, ham bone, oregano, bay leaf and thyme and simmer, covered on low heat for an hour.
Remove from heat and stir in the spinach.

Cheapskate Chicken: Every piece has a purpose

Cheapskate Chicken: Every piece has a purpose

Every time I turn around, it seems like groceries get more expensive and I’m getting less ‘bang’ for my buck at checkout. I have a set grocery budget that must feed six people and I only shop once a month. I’m always trying to maximize the amount I can purchase within that and spread the love to all my families’ meals. I love finding ingredients that can cheaply be used to make multiple things, especially things that are key ingredients in multiple recipes. It makes me feel all giddy. Call it an obsession of mine. I know, I’m weird, and I’m totally OK with that.

One thing in particular I know has drastically gone up at the stores is meat, and I use A LOT of meats. Chicken, especially, has seen a price hike and I haven’t seen great sale prices in quite some time. I’ve always preferred boneless, skinless breasts, simply because I am also lazy, and try to find shortcuts in the kitchen so that making dinner from scratch every night isn’t always an entire evening affair. I do have kids I have to attend to after all.  In seeking out cheaper alternatives, on a whim, I decided to buy a $3.00 pack of two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts about a year ago. I kept them in the freezer for some time since the prospect of de-boning was rather daunting. Finally, I decided to try cooking them like I would a whole chicken, in the crockpot, and the results were life changing! Or at least revolutionary in my kitchen. Enter: Cheapskate Chicken!  Now, from only one $3.00 package of chicken, with minimal (and I mean bare-minimum) prep, and just a handful of other kitchen staples, I get enough chicken for 3 meals that will feed all 6 of us, am able to make about a gallon and a half of chicken stock/broth, two packages of carrots, celery, and onions infused with flavor and ready to throw in your homemade soups, and even have meat to add in with our dog’s dry food for 2 weeks at a time. Interested yet?! I’ve never encountered a simpler multi-step process. Here goes.

Cheapskate Chicken

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  • one package bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
  • salt
  • pepper
  • whatever other dry seasonings you prefer

Directions

  1. Rinse, and pat dry, both chicken breasts
  2. Place them into the crockpot, skin side up
  3. Liberally salt and pepper the tops of the chicken breasts
  4. Add whatever other dry seasonings you’d like to add a hint of flavor to the meat. I prefer Montreal Chicken seasoning from McCormick. Occasionally, I will add in some minced garlic.
  5. Cover, and cook on high for about 4 hours, on low about 6 hours, or until meat is cooked through
  6. For easier removal from the crockpot (it’s so tender it has a tendency to just fall off the bone) turn your crockpot off and let the breasts cool before taking them out.

Don’t worry about your chicken burning or sticking to the bottom since you haven’t added any liquid. As the chicken cooks, the moisture it expels will collect on the bottom of your crockpot and prevent it. Not to mention the ‘dry’ cooking leaves the skin incredibly crisp and delicious. My kids always argue over who gets to eat the skin when it’s done!

Step 2: Pickin’ your chicken

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  1. Remove both breasts from your crock pot and place them on a clean surface, cutting board, plate, whatever you prefer.
  2. Pull all the meat you can find off your chicken, making sure to remove any bones that may come away with it. Place any bones in a bowl, along with the skin if you haven’t gobbled it up already like I do.
  3. Any meat you don’t want, whether it’s dark, fatty, whatever, either add to the bowl with your bones, or if you have a furry friend, place it in a zip lock bag to save for him/her, again being careful to remove any bones.
  4. Once you’ve picked your chicken clean, package up the meat you’ve kept, either in tupperware for the refrigerator or in freezer bags for the freezer in meal-size portions.
  5. If the chicken isn’t shredded enough for you, give it one quick spin in the food processor, or until your desired texture is reached.

Step 3: Homemade Chicken Stock

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Your crockpot is really going to get a workout today. You’re all ready to use it again! For this step you will need a few additional ingredients which I’ve listed below.

  •  chicken bones, skin, fat
  • 3 cups of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • water

Directions

  1. Throw your discarded chicken bones, fat, and skin back in your crockpot.
  2. Add in the prepared vegetables.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste, and add in any other spices you think your stock might need.
  4. Pour enough water over the vegetables to fill your crockpot about 1/2 inch from the top.
  5. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.
  6. When cool, pour the contents of the crockpot into a strainer that has been placed inside of a large stew pot. Preferably, one that can rest on the edge of the pot so it’s sits up out of the liquid that separates from the solids.
  7. After draining, remove the strainer from over the pot and pick out all pieces of bones, skin, and fat and discard them.
  8. Package up the veggies to freeze to use as sides for meals, vegetables for soups, stews, and other recipes. Their juicy flavor is incredible, and will enhance any meal.
  9. Add enough water to fill the stock-pot until the desired consistency is reached. Thicker, darker broth is considered ‘stock’ and is typically a little more potent, the more watered-down is broth. Both are good and you will never want to buy the store-bought versions again.
  10. Refrigerate or freeze your broth and use as needed.

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I typically keep some broth in the fridge and freeze the rest. I save any old plastic containers, such as yogurt, sour cream, ricotta cheese, etc, with their lids since plastic containers can be re-used, and also allow for the expansion of the liquid when it freezes without breaking, shattering, or cracking.

If you prefer a leaner broth, let the entire stockpot full of broth cool in the refrigerator before packaging until the fat has congealed, or hardened. Using a spoon, skim any fat off the top of the broth. Then package.

Now, sit back and give yourself a pat on the back. Your family will think you’ve slaved away in the kitchen all day and all night, and sing your praises, but (SHHH!) you, your crockpot, and your pocket book will know the satisfying truth.

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