One way to beat the dinner-time crunch is to cook once but create two meals. One meal to eat that night, the other to eat the next day or freeze in an air-tight container.
From experience I've found that braised chicken serves the cause very well. Because I know I want to use the chicken for two meals, I choose legs or thighs. Unlike chicken breasts, dark meat creates a savory sauce and doesn't dry out when braised.
Add a green salad and steamed rice, cooked pasta, mashed potatoes, or a fresh loaf of bread and you'll have an affordable, nutritious, healthy dinner.
Now: Braised Chicken with Farmers' Market Fresh Vegetables
The basis for the deeply flavored sauce is a technique familiar to many cuisines. Finely chopped vegetables are sauteed in an oil until lightly browned. Seasoned with spices, a liquid is added and reduced. In French it's called a mirepoix, in Spanish sofrito, and in Italian soffritto. The ingredients vary, but garlic and onions are pretty much constants.
For this dish I shopped at our local farmers' market and used onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli stems, brown mushrooms, and corn off the cob.
Most of the ingredients can be swapped out for others.
Instead of onions, I could have used shallots or leeks, any of which will caramelize and add sweetness to the sauce. I used broccoli stems because my kids only eat the crowns and I don't like throwing away the stems. You can use the crowns and zucchini, squash, and tomatoes as well.
When I made the dish last night, I kept the skins on, but if you want to lower the fat content, remove the skins.
Yield 4 servings plus left-overs
Time 30 minutes preparation, 1 1/2 - 2 hours cooking
10 chicken legs or thighs, about 3 1/2 pounds, washed, pat dry
1 cup broccoli stems, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 cup yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 cup brown mushrooms, washed, finely chopped
2 cups corn kernels from 2 ears of corn
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
3 cups water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a large covered pan like a Dutch oven or roasting pan. Heat the oil on a medium flame. Use tongs and add the chicken pieces. Season with sea salt and pepper. Turn frequently until the chicken is lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Remove and set aside. Discard the fat.
In the same pan, add the other tablespoon of olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper. Add all the vegetables. Lightly brown. Stir frequently to avoid burning, about 8-10 minutes.
Pour in 3 cups of water. Stir well to deglaze the pan so the flavor bits get into the liquid. Add back the cooked chicken pieces. Cover and put in the oven. After 60 minutes, use the tongs to turn over the chicken pieces. Cover and return to the oven for another 30-60 minutes.
The chicken is cooked when the meat is separating from the bone. Taste and adjust the seasonings with sea salt and pepper. If you want a thicker sauce, reduce the liquid over a medium flame.
To serve, place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour the sauce on top.
Later: Chicken with Easy-to-Make Moroccan-Style Couscous
Assuming you have half of the chicken and sauce left-over, this dish takes very little time to prepare.
The sort of couscous served in Morocco is delicious but difficult and time-consuming to prepare. The "instant" kind can be found in some grocery stores, upscale, specialty and health food markets.
If you haven't used couscous before, meet your new best kitchen-helper.
Couscous costs pennies per serving and takes next to no effort to make. It can be served hot or cold, in a salad, as a side dish, or, as in this recipe, as a main dish.
Yield 4 servings
Time 30 minutes
4-5 chicken legs or thighs, cooked as above
2 cups sauce with vegetables, cooked as above
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 bunch spinach, washed to remove grit, stems removed, roughly chopped
2 cups whole wheat or regular "instant" couscous
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups water
Sea salt and pepper
Boil 2 1/2 cups of water. Put the couscous into a large boil. Pour the hot water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the bowl and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes, remove the covering, and fluff the couscous with a fork.
In a large pot, saute the cumin, turmeric, and garlic in the olive oil until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the golden raisins, cooked chicken, sauce, and chopped spinach.
Stir well to submerge the spinach in the sauce--if you need more liquid, add a cup of water--and simmer 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.
Put the couscous in a large bowl, ladle the chicken and sauce on top and serve immediately. Alternately, portion out the couscous, chicken and sauce into individual bowls.
Tip: when I have the time, I'll take the meat off the bones to make the dish easier to eat. The kids definitely appreciate that.