I’m no “Cooking with Bryan”, but lately I’ve had the opportunity to do a little improvisational cooking, and it makes you feel awesome, like a Top/Iron Chef. I think most people can do this, all you need to know is a little about what goes together, and what flavors you want.
What goes together? Some flavors don’t work together or don’t work together for you. Some spices like to hang out together like basil and oregano or cinnamon and sugar. Ginger and brown sugar are good in Asian marinades with garlic and green onion and soy sauce. Spices for Mexican food include cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, possibly cayenne pepper. Apples and cinnamon go well. I add cinnamon to my apple sauce or my cooked apples for pancakes.
What flavors do you want? I don’t like mustard. If my pork chop breading says to add Dijon mustard, I’m going to skip it because I know I won’t like it. Conversely, I like nuts and chocolate together. If a dessert is chocolate based, I will add some pecans to it, and it will be yummy to me. If something asks for margarine or shortening, I often use butter instead because I like the flavor.
So, I completely forgot church potluck day, and even if I had remembered, I had no intention of going to the store because I desire not to leave my house right now. I began searching through my house for a suitable dish to prepare. We are freezer cooking for baby right now, so I am feeling very stingy about the contents of my freezer. I had some chopped up turkey from Thanksgiving that was just waiting for soup, but I felt like I could sacrifice it for the cause. I also had some extra tortillas because of the “pick 2” rule at Sam’s Club that wouldn’t just allow me to get my corn tortillas for tacquitos. So, I’m thinking chicken enchiladas. I found some green chilies in my pantry and some salsa verde in the fridge. We also had a block of colby jack. Well, that left creaminess. I had no “cream of” soup because I’m too hippy-natural for that stuff. However, I did have cream cheese. So, here was my final recipe:
- 4 cups cooked chicken (or turkey)
- 1 small can green chilies
- 4 oz cream cheese
- 1/4 cup colby jack cheese, shredded (1/2 cup would be better)
- 1/2 tsp each chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder (I really just sprinkled some of this on)
- dash of cayenne pepper
- 1-2 packages small-medium flour tortillas
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 1 cup salsa verde
- 1-2 cups colby jack cheese, shredded
Place filling ingredients in a pan, heat over medium heat to melt cream cheese. Spoon 1/4 cup filling into 8 inch tortillas and roll. Place seam side down in a 9×13. In your same pan that you mixed your filling, heat 8 more oz. cream cheese and a cup of salsa verde. Spread over the top of your enchiladas when melted. Cover with another 1-2 cups of colby jack. Bake covered for 30 minutes at 350 and uncovered for 15 minutes more.
It was good. I even had enough to make 2 extras for myself for lunch the next day. Which was great since there were no leftovers at the potluck so others must have liked them as well. Success!
Then, today, I needed to make some chicken nuggets for the freezer. When I was at Sam’s Club last week shopping for freezer cooking, chicken was 1.77 a pound, so I picked up 12 pounds. I made some into cheesy chicken bundles (a recipe from this book), cooked a few pounds to slice and freeze for salads and pastas, and cut up several pounds for nuggets. I have made this style of nuggets in the past, but I had no desire to put in that much work right now. So, I thought about how I would do this. There are a thousand different nugget recipes, but Emma had suggested using ranch flavoring for them since we like to dip our nuggets in ranch. That got me thinking . . . So, I came up with this recipe
- 2 (more or less) pounds of chicken breasts/tenderloins cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup ranch dressing (I used this recipe)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1-2 cups bread crumbs (I made my own by drying and making crumbs of some Artisan Bread, panko works well in this, too)
- 1/4-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Mix ranch and milk together in a shallow dish. Mix crumbs and Parmesan together in a shallow dish. Dip chicken first in wet mixture, then coat with dry mixture. Bake at 400 or 425 degrees for 5-10 minutes per side (or less depending on the size of your nuggets). Or, freeze on a parchment covered cookie sheet. Put in a freezer bag. On serving day, bake at 400 for around 20-30 minutes (again, depending on nugget size), turning once until lightly browned and chicken is cooked through.
Now, about half way through. Things got really crazy. I ran out of bread crumbs because I had used some in making the cheesy chicken bundles earlier in the week, and I was dealing with several pounds of chicken here. So, I needed a substitute for the breading. I started with the little tiny bit of panko I had laying around, but it wasn’t enough. I then branched out to a mixture of instant potato flakes and Ritz cracker crumbs (I know, I know, I’m too crunchy for “cream of” soup, but I have Ritz and Potato flakes. Give me a break Green Police, I’m 9 months pregnant here). We tried both kinds of nuggets for lunch. Everyone liked the bread crumbs better, but the others were totally edible as well. So, don’t be afraid to improvise. Oh, and I would like to add that these nuggets were approved by my 6 and 9 year old daughters who are not easily pleased. Hope your kiddos (or big people) enjoy them as well.