So we all know that dinner is hard work, particularly when you’ve been ultra-busy, you’ve gotten home late, and you’re feeding a family of five. It can get hectic, ’cause everybody is HANGRY and they don’t want to wait. The first option is to go to boxed foods — quick to prepare, marginally decent taste, pretty cheap.
While I do occasionally succumb to the “let someone else do it” mentality, I also like to feed my family real food, and I’ve learned how to do it fast. This past Friday, I did just that. I made a beautiful, comfort-food dinner that went from grocery bags to plates in right at an hour.
Go ahead and try it…you know you want to.
Ain’t that a pretty plate? What’s on it is:
- Chicken Kiev (a modified version)
- Buttered Spinach
- Macaroni & Cheese
All made from scratch. Yup, in an hour. Ingredients first, then process.
Here’s a shot of the ingredients. It really isn’t as much as you think. And the flour is missing, ’cause I’m a dork and forgot to grab the tin.
- 3 large (thick) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 cup flour
- 3 eggs, well beaten
- 2 cups bread crumbs (I used seasoned bread crumbs, others use panko. Your choice)
- Salt & Pepper
- 6 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp italian seasoning
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 lb fresh spinach, washed well
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 2 16 oz bags shredded cheese (I use Italian Blend & Mexican Blend)
- 4 eggs, well beaten
- salt & pepper
Links above send you to the individual recipes. Just in case you want them.
Also note, I’m cooking for a crowd. You can always modify these recipes to feed less people. Just drop your ingredients proportionally so you always have the right blend of flavors.
Here’s what time it was when I started:
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Start the water to boil for the macaroni. Pull out a ginormous skillet and add about a half-inch/inch of your favorite oil [I used a well-seasoned canola]. Set it to medium-low.
- Beat the eggs well and pour them into the macaroni dish. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and half the cheese. Salt and pepper it, then stir it up really good. [A word of advice: use a teaspoon or so more salt than you expect to use. Trust me…the noodles need it.] Stick it on the counter.
- If the water is boiling, throw in the pasta. If not, cut up the butter for the chicken and and stick it somewhere warm to soften.
- Throw the spinach into a collander and rinse it well. Then drain it and rinse it again, particularly if it just came out of a garden. Dirty butter tastes funky.
- Do the pasta thing now if you haven’t already. Boil it 10ish minutes.
- Is your butter soft? If so, great. If not, stick it in the microwave for about 15 seconds. You want it squishy, not melty. Then dump all of your filling ingredients into the bowl with the butter and mash it up really well. I used to fork to squish, then a spoon and my fingers for the stuffing.
- Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise from the side. You want them relatively thin and evenly-sized, but thick enough to stuff and bread. You need a REALLY sharp knife for this next step, otherwise you’re going to mutilate your chicken. [I prefer this method to the pounding/freezing/wrapping nonsense. It’s faster and tastes just as good.]
- Use the tip of the knife to slice a pocket into each chicken breast half from the side. You want it as deep and wide as possible without slicing through the other side of the meat. If it happens, it’s okay. Don’t panic. Just be careful how you stuff them.
- Stuff roughly 1 tbsp of butter into each breast, making sure to fill the pocket. Keep the butter away from any cuts or openings so they will seal themselves and keep the buttery goodness inside.
- Wash your hands really well so not to transfer bacteria.
- Rinse the spinach one more time for good measure.
- When your timer goes off on your pasta, pause whatever you’re doing (if you’re playing with the chicken, wash your hands) and drain the pasta well. Dump it into the prepared dish and stir it up. Add the remainder of the cheese and, if it appears thick and lumpy, a little more milk to make it creamy. Shove that bad boy in the oven and forget about it. Doesn’t matter if the oven isn’t completely to 400 yet. It’ll get there.
- Lay out your bowls for the eggs, flour, and bread crumbs. Beat the eggs really well (I mean beat the unholy hell out of these suckers. The better beaten they are, the better they stick to the chicken) and pour them into the dish.
- One at a time, roll the chicken pieces in flour (shake off excess), dip in egg (careful not to layer it on too thick), then roll in bread crumbs and set on a dry plate. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Wash your hands. If you have Clorox Clean-up or some other germicidal cleaner handy, move everything and clean your counter. Empty the dredging bowls and squirt ’em too. Salmonella isn’t something we play with in our house.
- Check your oil by dropping a single drop of water into it. If it sizzles, it’s ready. Which by now, it should be.
- TIME CHECK!
- Carefully place the chicken pieces into the hot oil using tongs. Try not to scrape off the breading or pierce the meat. Only place as many as your pan will comfortably fit — mine holds 3 at a time. Set the timer for 4 minutes.
- Get another pot and shove your spinach into it. Don’t worry about it all fitting into the pot. It’s gonna shrink up A LOT.
- Set the heat under it to medium. The water still in the leaves from the rinsing will be sufficient to let it wilt. Stir it occasionally, making sure to bring the top leaves down into the pot so they can steam, too.
- When the buzzer goes off, flip your chicken. Set it to another 4 minutes, but keep an eye on it. If it gets too dark too fast, turn your heat down and reduce your time to 3 minutes.
- Once the majority of your spinach is wilted, throw it back in the collander to drain off the excess water [there won’t be much]. Return it to the pot with the butter and other ingredients and turn it down to medium-low. Let that cook (remember to stir) until the butter is melted, then turn off the heat and just let it do its thing.
- Remove the chicken pieces from the oil and let drain on paper towels. Be careful not to squeeze them too hard or the butter pockets might explode. We don’t want that. Yet.
- Add the next/remainder of the chicken and cook as above.
- Check on your mac and cheese. By now it should have a nice, golden-brown crust on top. Yank that gooey goodness out of the oven and put it on a heatproof surface to cool. If you have grease on top from the cheese, dab it away with a paper towel.
- Flip the chicken. Get your plates ready.
- Wash up. You really shouldn’t have a huge mess, and dinner will be much more satisfying if you don’t have to deal with it afterward.
- Remove the last of the chicken from the pan and cool.
- Plate up your food and serve. Check out the time, too.
- Congratulate yourself on a job well-done.
NOTE: If you don’t like the idea of the frying, you can always bake the chicken – 350 degrees for about an hour, turning once. You want your inner temperature to register at least 165 degrees, otherwise you run the risk of uncle Sal coming to dinner, and he’s not invited.
So there you have it. Dinner in an hour. Now go forth and create magical foods!