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Sunday, April 21

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about how to replicate some of those frozen dinners you see in the grocery store freezer section that are in green boxes or have the words "light," "lean" or "diet" on the package. Enough of y'all commented to make me think it was a decent idea. So I'm going to continue doing it on a semi-regular basis.

So this week my wanderings through the frozen section brought me to three different items that I could see myself making. Admittedly, some of these will take longer than a few that I did last time. But they will all take less than 25 minutes and not all of that time will be spent over the stove, so you can open your mail, call your mom, or whatever else it is you do when you have a few minutes.

I'm going to continue giving these recipes in single-portion sizes, but they can all be doubled or quadrupled in case you want to cook once and then have leftovers for later. I'm sticking with chicken this time, because I found chicken tenderloins on sale. For about $7, I got 2-1/2 pounds of chicken. Since these are usually very clean and rarely have extra fat, I like that I can package them into small bags and freeze them easily. For $7, I got enough chicken to make 10 servings. My average cost for each of these dishes is $3.65 or less. Which puts me under the prepared meal purchase.

This week's selections will be Chicken Parmesan with Fettucini and Broccoli, Thai Style Chicken with Rice, and Baked Chicken Enchiladas.

Chicken Parmesan with Fettucini and Broccoli
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of chopped onion
1 small clove of garlic (or 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder)
4 ounces of chicken breast
1/2 cup of marinara sauce from a jar
2 saltine or round crackers
1 tablespoon of parmesan cheese
2 ounces of dried fettucine
1 cup of frozen broccoli florets
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400° F. Bring a large pot of water over high heat and cover. Place olive oil in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onion is just slightly translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds while stirring continuously. Pile the onion and garlic into the center of the pan and place the chicken breast on top of it. Reduce the heat to medium and let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Flip the chicken over, stir the onions and garlic to prevent them from burning, and place the chicken back on top of the onions and garlic. Cook for another 2 minutes. (If you're using garlic powder, cook like above for the onions. Place the chicken breast on the onions, sprinkle half of the garlic powder on top of the chicken and then flip over and sprinkle the other half of the powder on the other side.) Turn off the flame and pour the marinara sauce over the chicken.

By now the water in your pan should be boiling. Add the fettucini to the water, cover and reduce heat slightly. Place your skillet in the oven and let it cook for 5 minutes. Stir the pasta occasionally to keep it from sticking. Pound the crackers as flat as you can get them, mix them with the parmesan cheese and set aside. Add the broccoli to the boiling water and let it cook for two minutes. Switch your oven to broil. Sprinkle the cracker and cheese mixture over the chicken breast and let it cook for 2 minutes. Drain the pasta and broccoli and add it to a plate. Place the chicken breast on top and pour the remaining sauce over the pasta and broccoli. Season to taste with salt and pepper and enjoy.

Thai Style Chicken With Flavored Rice

1/4 cup of long grain white rice
1/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of light coconut milk
1/4 cup of finely chopped red or green bell pepper
1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger (about as big around as your thumb, with the outside skin trimmed off)
1 teaspoon of soy sauce

Place all ingredients in a rice cooker and turn on. This should be finished cooking in 20 minutes.

Chicken and Thai Sauce
2 chicken tenderloins (about 2-3 ounces each)
2 tablespoons of chopped onion
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1/4 cup of light coconut milk
4-5 fresh basil leaves (or 1 teaspoon of dried basil)
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 clove of garlic (or 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder)
1 2-inch piece of lemon grass

In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion and olive oil. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes. While that cooks, trim off any fat and tendon from the chicken and cut into 2-inch pieces. Place them in the skillet and cook on each side for 2 minutes. Once the second side has cooked, add the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and cook for 7-10 minutes or until the chicken is done. By the time the chicken finishes, your rice should be finished. Place the rice in the center of the plate and arrange the chicken on top of it.

Baked Chicken Enchiladas
2 teaspoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons of chopped onion
2 chicken tenderloins, chopped
1 teaspoon of ground chili powder
1 teaspoon of flour
2 teaspoons of cumin
1 teaspoon of ground oregano
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of unsweetened chocolate powder, or even a 1" piece of a chocolate bar
1/2 cup of canned tomato sauce
2 corn tortillas
1/4 cup of shredded cheese of your choice

Preheat the oven to 400° F. In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and chopped onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the chopped chicken tenderloins to the skillet and cook quickly stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is almost completely cooked through. Add the chili powder, flour and cumin. Stir to combine and cook for 1 more minute. Remove the chicken to a bowl. Add the oregano, salt, cinnamon, chocolate and tomato sauce to the skillet. Stir to combine and let the chocolate melt if necessary. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly. Place one of the tortillas on top and press to moisten. Use the pair of tongs and flip the tortilla to moisten the other side. Once it seems pliable, but not soggy, remove it from the skillet and place it into a cooking dish. Sprinkle 1/2 of the chicken in the tortilla and 1/3 of the cheese. Roll up and place seam side down in the dish. Repeat with the other tortilla. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and place in the oven. Let it cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce has just started to bubble. Plate and serve with 1/4 cup of canned black or pinto beans that have been heated.

These recipes require a few more ingredients that the first batch that I made, and they do take a bit longer. But they're still fairly quick and simple meals. Since it takes almost as long to make four servings as it does to cook one serving, feel free to increase these recipes and store them in your freezer for 1 month or refrigerator for 5-7 days.

Is there a frozen dinner that you find yourself drawn to, but would like a recipe for so you can break the freezer's strangle hold on you? Leave me a notes in the comments and I'll try to replicate the recipe.

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N / February 5, 2007 11:37 AM

I didn't comment last time, but I do like this idea, so I'm glad you're continuing it. Since you asked... particular favorites that I would love to see you replicate are Trader Joe's black bean and corn enchiladas and/or Amy's vegetable pot pie...yum!

ingrid / February 6, 2007 9:32 PM

Thanks Cinnamon for reminding us that we can actually cook with fresh, healthy ingredients in about the same amount of time as those frozen processed meals!

Katy / February 10, 2007 10:02 AM

I would like it if you would show us how to make our own (less salty, more tasty) versions of the Campbell's Supper Bakes. They might be easy, but I'm sure that if I had a recipe, it would taste way better and not be any more difficult. Well, there would probably be more dirty dishes from the preparation. The one that I have in mind is the cheesy pasta with crumb chicken breast.

Cinnamon / February 11, 2007 4:55 PM

Thanks, Katy. I'd not heard of these before but I think it should be simple enough. I'll look for the cheesy pasta and see if I can make it better, cheaper, and just as fast. Stay tuned.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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