Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

It’s been a while since I made a casserole.

My default meals involve lots of dairy.  I am the queen of stuffing and cheese.  Chicken, stuffing, and cheese.  Broccoli, stuffing, and cheese.  Rice, chicken, and cheese.  Beef, sour cream, and noodles.  Chicken, sour cream, and noodles.  Bottom line: what can we mix together with sour cream and/or cheese that will bake in an hour or less?

This would be just fine if my husband wasn’t lactose intolerant and if my son would eat combination foods (i.e., anything mixed with anything else… broccoli? fine. cheese? fine. broccoli and cheese and stuffing? not fine).  And, believe it or not, eating all that dairy isn’t the healthiest way to go.  I have to admit boredom with these recipes, too.  Mostly, I want to be able to feed my family things that won’t make them sick (husband) and things that they might eat (son).  Lydia and I, well, we’ll eat anything.

I grew up meat and potatoes, all-American, spaghetti and marinara sauce, pizza on Fridays.  It isn’t a bad way to eat.  I’ve always been intimidated by cooking outside of this box– there’s too many unknowns!  How do you cook this?  How do you saute?  How do you broil?  What’s a julienned carrot?  Help! has changed the way I cook.  It has added variety to our evening meals.  It has lessened the amount of produce I throw out.  It has significantly decreased the number of frozen and packaged foods I buy.  Stuffing-based casseroles have fallen off the Wells menu, and in its place– honey-glazed carrots, steamed broccoli, garlic butter pasta.  Did you know there are more ways to cook pork chops than in a frying pan?

One of the best features of the website is the ingredient search.  I grew a whole row of cilantro this summer, and I love cilantro, but there’s only so much corn salsa one can make.  So I punched in “cilantro” and, wham — cilantro lime chicken. Black beans a la Olla (mmmm).  Cilantro lime rice (mmmm).  Variety! 

Time is always of the essence.  I get off of work at 5 p.m., and we need to eat between 6 and 6:30 in order to be ready for baths by 7 and bedtime routine by 7:30, bed by 8 p.m.  There’s no time for lengthy food prep.  However, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of fresh and healthy food combinations that can be prepared in an hour or less.  All it takes is a little multi-tasking, and you can have a pot of rice steaming, broccoli steaming, and salmon baking, timed out so that everything is ready almost simultaneously. 

The other thing I’ve learned is the value and beauty of herbs and spices.  There’s so much more to life than salt and pepper!  Nothing satisfies like a fresh, healthy meal that tastes good AND didn’t take forever to cook.  Yay food!

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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