I have fond memories of my mom coming home from work and starting dinner. I would join her in the kitchen as I finished homework and watched (and helped) as she cooked. It seemed like no matter what, she always managed to put a healthy meal together. There was a protein, a vegetable or two, and a whole grain. Most impressive, however, was that every night was something different. There were our favorites, chicken cacciatore, chicken curry, beef stew, turkey burgers, homemade pizza, coriander chicken, roasted turkey, a stir fry or two, and on and on.
I took it for granted completely, and now that I am in the real world–my first year in the real world to be exact–I am in AWE that my mom had that energy to cook so extensively when she came home from work.
I am a first-year teacher deep in the heart of Arkansas. Approximately 10 miles from Mississippi and about 30 or so miles from Louisiana, I am in the heart of fried food America. Delicious yes, but it gives freshman 15 a whole new meaning. The combination of Arkansan (deliciously fried) food and first-year teaching is even more killer for one’s figure than the dining hall’s unlimited supply of delicious food once was. [Note from the editors: delicious food was not really a problem at our schools.]
In my first months of teaching, I was so tired, it was literally difficult to lift a fork to my mouth at the end of the day. It got a bit better, but even I, who love cooking, had only the energy to eat, not quite to cook. But I missed, oh so much, those yummy and much healthier foods of my childhood.
And so, one Sunday not long ago, I made a promise to myself. I was going to actually start to cook again. For my health, but even more so for the way cheaper and tastier nature of food made at home. I called my mom with an ulterior motive. Yes, I wanted to talk to her, but even more than that, I wanted her recipe for chicken cacciatore. And so I made a giant pot of tomato-y, mushroom-y chicken cacciatore. And with some frozen broccoli, string beans, or spinach that I sauteed in garlic, I had unreal meals all week. Sure, by Friday I cut up the chicken and put it on salad for a change of pace, but boy was I glad to have a pot of actually delicious food.
Fast forward to this week. I decided to take the short amount of time to make two different chicken dishes. I bought three whole chicken breasts, bone in and skin on, chopped each in half, lightly coated each with a tiny coat of flour, and in two pots, sauteed the chicken. I added chopped onion and garlic to both pots. Into one, I added tomato paste, chicken stock (boxed), and mushrooms. It took about 15 minutes, and I had my chicken cacciatore underway. Into the other pot, I added curry powder, Greek yogurt, some chicken stock, and in just a few more minutes, my quick chicken curry was underway as well.
As the two meals simmered away, I sat on my couch and lesson planned. I think it took a total of 25 minutes to get two meals together, which will pay off big time throughout my busy week. I have a freezer full of organic frozen vegetables, a bunch of garlic, a bit of good olive oil, and now, each night, even though I am less tired before (I have the energy to bike ride for an hour a day now!!), I can saute the veggies, microwave either chicken dish, and I have two chicken options every night in just a matter of minute.
Kate Eisenpress is co-founder Cara’s little sister. A 2010 graduate of Bates College, she now teaches high school English in Lake Village, Arkansas, with Teach For America. Since graduating, she has cured meat (lanza), picked pecans (see her pecans in recipes here, here, and here), and led cooking classes in Eurdora, AR.
To make enough food for the week, prep the ingredients for both chicken recipes (most are the same), and cook them side by side. Eat a portion of one for dinner, then divvy the rest up into containers and keep them for busy nights ahead.
Quick Chicken Cacciatore
Makes 2-3 servings
1.5 whole chicken breasts, each breast should be cut in half, you’ll have three pieces (skin and bone-in)
1 tablespoon olive oil
flour with salt and pepper for coating chicken
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
1/2 can tomato paste
1/2 cup liquid (chicken stock, water, or combo)
1 package pre-sliced mushrooms (or less if you don’t looove mushrooms)
salt and pepper
Lightly coat the chicken in the flour mixture. Tap off any extra flour. In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Place the chicken breasts in skin side down. Allow the chicken to get light brown, flip over, and cook for another 3-4 minutes until the other side is lightly browned. Add the onion and garlic, allow to saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, chicken stock, and mushrooms. Season with a pinch of salt and some pepper. Turn heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. You may continue to cook longer for “fall-off the bone” chicken. Allow the chicken to cool if you are preparing to keep it for the week.
This recipe is easily doubled.
Makes 2-3 servings
Flour to coat chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1.5 whole chicken breasts (cut so you have 3 pieces) with bone-in and skin on
1/2 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder, or more for old curry powder, or if you like it stronger
1 6-ounce container Greek yogurt (I use 0%)
water/stock to fill up the Greek yogurt container (6 ounces)
Dip the chicken in the flour, tapping off any extra. Place oil in heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, skin side down. Allow skin side to brown, 4 minutes. Flip chicken, and add onions and garlic. Allow onions to saute for about 4-5 minutes. Add curry powder and stir to combine. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Add the yogurt and stock/water. Cover, turn heat to low, and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes. Taste for salt, correcting as needed, and serve.