Dinner Almost As Easy But Better Than Take Out

Really.  I’ve always maintained that the biggest problem preparing everyday meals is just getting the idea. I’ll look for recipes, think I’ve found one, and then find that I’m missing a key ingredient – a big stumbling block. The only thing that helps is to do that one thing we all hate – plan ahead.  If you’re missing a seasoning ingredient or  something less important you can substitute what you do have on hand and still use the main ingredient and cooking technique. That’s, after all, how recipes are developed!

Cookbooks and magazines (like this one) can offer great ideas, but to put them into action takes a little bit of planning. Once you get the hang of it, planning can become second nature. You might even engage the kids.  Not every meal needs to be a showstopper, but it sure helps to vary the flavors and menus from one day to the next.

One little reminder –when you go shopping take your own reusable shopping bags to save the trees and the environment.

With a little bit of thinking ahead you can be ready to put together quick, easy, healthy and economical meals that will please both you and your family. With a specific grocery list in hand, you can save money, too.

Here are a couple of  “take-out” style menus that work for kids. Little ones especially love the first menu because it is similar to fast food.  The second one resembles take-out fried chicken. In either case, balance the menu with a green vegetable and a crisp salad.

CHICKEN FINGERS AND FRIES

Add a salad to this and you have a very quick and easy meal. Panko is used in Japanese cooking for coating fried foods and stays crunchy and crisp. You can find it in the Asian section of a supermarket or in an Asian market.

  • 3 large baking potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled, cut into 1/2 inch spears
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 pieces)
  • 1egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs or panko

Honey Mustard Dip:

  • 1/4 cup Dijon style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Preheat the oven to 425*F. Cover a large baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray (for easy clean-up).

In a bowl, toss the potatoes with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Spread on the baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the chicken breasts into lengthwise strips and roll strips in the beaten egg mixture, then in the bread crumbs or panko. Push the potatoes aside and add the chicken pieces in a single layer.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is done.

To make the dip, mix the mustard and honey and offer as a dipping sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

CRISPY OVEN BAKED CHICKEN

When you bake the chicken in a convection oven, the skin gets especially crispy just like the take-out variety, but you skip all the fat here. It isn’t difficult to do, either.

  • 1 broiler-fryer chicken, about 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs or panko
  • 1 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika (optional)
  • 2 tabllespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 egg whites or 1 whole egg

Preheat the oven to 375*F.  (If you are using a convection oven, preheat it to 350*F.) Cover a large baking pan with foil and coat with cooking spray. This makes for easy clean up.

Wash chicken pieces and pat dry with a paper towel. (I often like to remove the breast bones, but leave the wing bones intact to avoid lots of little bones to pick at the table.)

Combine the crumbs, parsley, paprika flour, salt and pepper in a shallow pan. In another shallow pan beat the egg slightly. (I like to use pie tins for both mixtures.)

Roll the chicken pieces in the egg, then in the dry ingredients to coat thoroughly. Place chicken pieces well apart on the prepared baking pan.

Bake for about 1 hour or until chicken is tender, golden, and cooked through.

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