It’s not that I don’t inhale what’s left of the frozen shrimp tempura from my daughters’ plates. Or that I didn’t grow up eating Stouffer’s creamy chicken pot pie once a week. Or that I have anything against a slice or two of Trader Joe’s quattro formaggio frozen pizza. My feeling is…if you can’t break out a good junky frozen dinner every now and then, well, I have to ask: Where is the joy in life? But for the most part, we like to stock our family freezer and pantry with quick-and-dirty packaged foods that a) we feel good about feeding our children and b) that we would eat ourselves. Here is a list of what we fall back on when we are going out (and s#*t! The babysitter is coming in 5!) or when we have nothing in the fridge. Or when the work day has been loooong and the evening with the kids seems soooo tragically short.
PJ’s Organic Chicken Burrito These are a recent discovery. They’re not cheap — I think each goes for about $7 — but you get what you pay for. Good quality ingredients, fresh flavor, and a variety to choose from. I find them at Whole Foods but website says you can find them in the freezer section at national supermarkets and natural food stores.
Black Bean Soup This is our go-to meal for Phoebe when she doesn’t like what everyone else is eating. A quick heat on the stovetop and a dollop of sour cream and it barely feels like I’m doing anything extra. She likes Latin Style from Trader Joe’s that comes in the carton, but we’ve also given her 365 brand from Whole Foods and Amy’s Black Bean Vegetable.
Trader Joe’s Thai Shrimp Gyoza Dumplings We steam these or saute them in a little oil and serve with broccoli. I once made a recipe from the Cooking with Trader Joe’s cookbook which called for tossing the dumplings into chicken broth with some frozen vegetables and a dash of soy sauce. It took about 10 minutes. I’m not sure why I haven’t reprised that one.
Whole Foods 365 Organic Vegetarian Chili Organic and affordable. It’s Phoebe’s favorite, but I often open a can for lunch and top it with a chopped avocado and a little sour cream.
Naked Nuggets These are the un-breaded (so gluten-free) real white meat chicken pieces from the guys behind Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York. I think the genius of them is that you heat them in a little olive oil on the stovetop instead of in the oven. The only problem is that they can be a little hard to find — though their site lists availability at ShopRite and Food Lion among others. My 8-year-old literally gasps when she spies them in the freezer section.
Beans on Toast Let’s not forget this classic.
Hoffman’s Hot Dogs OK, I’ve never actually tried these, but Yolanda’s franks-n-beans dinner over on Momfilter sounds so good that I’m determined to remedy this culinary void immediately and stock up. (Slow-cooker owners encouraged to follow entire recipe.)
Spinach Pizza Snacks Back when Abby was little, the spinach tucked into these little bitesize pockets were the only green vegetable Abby would consume. So there was a stretch there when these graced the table way more often than they probably should have. For reasons I can’t remember, we called them “Fun Pies” and have had luck with other flavors, too — like southwest and spinach and cheese.
Saffron Road Chicken Tikka Masala There is a whole line of these Indian freezer dinners and so far I haven’t tasted one I don’t like. Most take about three minutes in the microwave and come with rice. Add some grape tomatoes or a handful of baby carrots and pat yourself on the back.
PS: Giveaway happening on my Facebook page today!
[Read more →]
In some ways I feel like I could tell my life’s story through the breaded chicken cutlet.
It started with my mother: Mom could make a chicken cutlet. Crispy, golden, never overcooked. When I was growing up, she’d serve them with sautéed garlicky zucchini wedges. I’d slap the cold leftovers on a baguette with a slather of mayo. No one could replicate it. Then, when I was in fourth grade, Mom decided she wanted to master more in life than pan-fried poultry. She headed to law school at night and joined a practice four years later. Three nights a week, while she was out learning about torts and civil procedure, my dad was in charge of the kitchen. And, since his great enthusiasm for eating never seemed to translate to actually learning how to cook, my mom decided to teach him some basics … including making those breaded chicken cutlets.
He learned them, he cooked them. Three nights a week. For four years. A long four years. I never wanted to eat another one — until college, when I decided to make my boyfriend (now husband) dinner. My repertoire, it turned out, was as varied as my dad’s had been, and my skills considerably worse. On that romantic March evening in 1993, we popped open a couple microbrews, turned on some Seinfeld, and sat down to the rubberiest chicken dinner ever served.
Fifteen years later, with kids in the equation, I have been forced to master the meal. Not only out of respect to Grandma, but because, like all moms, I was forced to compete with the omnipresent twin evils: The Chicken Nugget and The Chicken Finger.
When Phoebe was little, we regularly fed her the packaged, pre-breaded nuggets. This was 2002, before I developed any sort of opinion about the provenance of my meat and before it ever dawned on me that I might be able to actually cook homemade meals for her. Since I headed into the “two under two” phase soon after, the idea of setting up dredging stations after work and serving homemade cutlets to toddlers, who were 99% likely to reject them was downright hilarious. But, man, those dinosaur shaped nuggets? We didn’t have to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma to know that they just weren’t right.
So we did what we’ve done probably two dozen times since. We embarked upon a baby-step transition, using Trader Joe’s Chicken Bites as a homemade halfway house. Though the T-Joes nuggets were not 100% natural either, there were fewer additives and, more important, they had a similar shape to the ones we had been eating, minimizing our risk of a tableside revolt. Only when we were really ready did we start experimenting with the chicken that might compete. Eventually, I struck on this magic formula.
The No Chicken-Nugget-Ever-Again-Breaded Chicken Cutlet
1. Pound the living hell out of four organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (Do not bother continuing with this recipe if you skip this step.)
2. Set up your dredging stations: a rimmed plate with two lightly beaten eggs, a plate with a mound of 3/4 cup flour (salted, peppered, and dry mustard-ed if you have it), a plate with a huge mound of Kellogg’s Corn Flake Crumbs. Toss in some ground flax if you have it.
3. Dredge your chicken pieces first in the flour, then in the egg, then in the crumbs.
4. Sauté each breast in olive oil over medium-high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Serve hot with garlicky sautéed zucchini (recipe below), broccolini and roasted butternut squash (shown above), or just a big, huge dollop of ketchup.
1. Cut two pieces of zucchini in half lengthwise, then split each half in half, and each quarter in half lengthwise. Cut into wedges.
2. In a frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add one clove of garlic (halved) and swirl it around in the oil. Remove garlic before it turns brown, about one minute.
3. Add zucchini wedges, salt, pepper, and sprinkle of flour. (If you are making chicken cutlets, use some of the leftover dredging flour.)
4. Mix every few minutes until zucchini is cooked through and has a nice golden color, about 3 to 4 minutes.
[Read more →]