Monday, November 7, 2016

NaNoWriMo Cooking: Time to Write and Still Eat Well

Review: Campbell's Sauces: Thai Curry, Toasted Sesame, Creamy Garlic Butter

I make dinner at our house. Actually, I make breakfast as well, but that is only picking from a menu at Chick-fil-A or one of our Sunday morning favorites. Dinner, though, is made at home, ranging in complexity from icebox potpourri (leftovers) to a full Thanksgiving-level roast. With occasional exceptions, on retirement we quit going out to dinner.

Except in November. In the past, my focus on plot, character development, and world-building made problems with finding time and energy to cook.

I'd find myself saying, "I'll get up in a minute and make dinner." Two hours later, still deep in the keyboard, I'd hear my spouse in the kitchen putting together a cheese sandwich to stave off starvation. Then I'd finally knock off for the day and binge on popcorn to still my own hunger pangs.

Creamy Garlic Butter Oven Sauce

This year, I tried something new. In October, I noticed a new product in the supermarket: Campbell's Oven Sauce. With a minimum of prep time (a few minutes to peel and dice potatoes and brown chicken breasts), I could put together something very like a roast chicken dinner. My favorite of several, the Oven Sauce Creamy Garlic Butter Chicken took less than 5 minutes to get ready for the oven, and rendered up three dinners: the initial feast on Sunday night, a toast-and-chicken sandwich Monday night, with a side of green beans from the original meal, and finally, a sauce over green beans meal with a side of scrambled eggs for the protein. 

We may have been a test market, because the next thing I knew, that single shelf section in the market had become a whole aisle section offering oven sauces, slow-cooker sauces, and my new favorite, skillet sauces.

Like the oven sauces, Campbell's Skillet Sauce is usually designed for pouring over cooked chicken, but the beauty is that they can be bent in unexpected ways to make tasty entrees "with legs." That's our phrase for a meal that has leftovers that can be recombined the next night in a non-boring way.

Thai Curry Chicken

Subtly sweet and slightly spicy, thai curry sauce seems designed to go over chicken. A $5 supermarket-brand pack of chicken tenders, a 16-ouce bag of frozen peas, broccoli florets, or cauliflower, and 10 minutes of kitchen work makes a super-tasty meal with at least one leftover-supper in it.

I snip the tenders into bite-size chunks of raw chicken, brown them in the skillet, then dump the entire packet of sauce, and the frozen vegetables, into the skillet, stirring them together to get everything coated with sauce. Then I lid the pan, reduce the heat to low-medium, set the timer for 20 minutes, and go back to the keyboard.

The resulting sauce can be:

  • added like gravy to scrambled eggs
  • poured over toast
  • spooned into baked potato
  • served over rice, mashed potatoes, or pasta

The surprise comes with using the thai curry skillet sauce to finish fish sticks. Yep, those homely kid-meal favorites can be cooked according to the directions on the packet, then finished in the skillet with the "chicken" sauce packet for a savory meal that works nicely over toasted English muffin. 

Toasted Sesame with Garlic and Ginger Ground Beef

Yes, I know the packet says "chicken." I add this sauce to a pound of browned ground beef, stir in a 10-ounce packet of frozen green peas I cooked in the microwave while the beef was browning, and lid the pan, letting it simmer for 10 minutes or so.

This is more like a meaty stew or a sloppy-joe filling than a sauce. We ate it the first night in hamburger rolls with leftover slow-cooker beans. It works over mashed potatoes, but might be too thick to do well on rice or pasta.  Its tangy sweetness reminded me of South American picadillo empanada filling. Next time I make it, I plan to make biscuit empanadas with the leftovers, using ready-to-bake biscuits to cut time in the preparation.

Bottom line? You don't have to dine on sandwiches and potato chips just because it's November. Write a new plot using these amazingly tasty shortcuts, and return to your novel with a sated appetite and a satisfied family.