Cooking with the Grands
I recently spent an afternoon with my daughter-in-law Isma and my three granddaughters. We planned a day of cooking together, with me teaching them how to make enjoyable dishes and hopefully to help them comfortable in the kitchen.
The girls are 17, 12 and seven, so the seven-year-old pretty much just hung out and snuggled with our dog, Rascal. The older girls and Isma dug right in, and we prepared five different dishes in about that many hours.
I had done some preparation ahead of time. We were making three dishes that called for chicken, so I precooked five large boneless, skinless breasts and three boneless, skinless thighs and assembled the ingredients we would need.
We made chicken salad, chicken and rice, Canadian Cheese Soup, pot roast, and taco soup.
The girls chopped, stirred, and ate. Isma and I cooked the pot roast in an Instant Pot. These pressure cookers can be intimidating and I wanted to show her how easy it is to use them along with the safety features that are built into the unit. Chicken salad is a family favorite. In my world there is a difference between chicken salad for sandwiches and for salads. If I am eating a chicken salad sandwich I don’t want any chunks of anything in there. I don’t mind grapes, pecans or cranberries or whatever if I am eating it on a bed of lettuce. There isn’t much of a recipe for the sandwich version, just take two of the cooked chicken breasts and finely chop them in a food processor. If I use two breasts I use about three stalks of celery and finely chop that in the food processor as well. Mix them together, add some salt and black pepper to taste, and mix in about 1/2 cup of good quality mayonnaise. It may take a little more or less, it depends on how “wet” you like it. It is simple and delicious.
The chicken and rice was pretty easy, too. I had added a tablespoon of chicken soup base to the water I was going to cook the chicken in, since they didn’t have any bones or skin, which greatly adds to the flavor. After I removed the chicken and put aside six cups for the soup, I had about four cups of stock left. I added 2 cups of parboiled rice and cooked it until it was soft and creamy. Sophia, 12, chopped two celery stalks and a small onion and sauteed it in 4 tbsp. of butter until it was softened.
We added two chopped chicken breasts to the rice, and then added the softened celery, onions and butter and 3/4 of a cup of mayonnaise. (Trust me on this, it adds a whole new creaminess to the rice.)
Finally, add two cups of slightly cooked brocoli florets. Stir in two cups of shredded cheddar cheese. At this point you can mix it up and put it in a greased baking dish or you can stir in a can of Rotel for more flavor. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, or until the top starts to bubble and brown a bit at the edges. The girls loved this, as did my grandson, John, and gobbled it up by the bowlful.
The Canadian Cheese Soup is a recipe I got from a good friend when we lived in Michigan. I used the six cups of stock I had set aside from cooking the chicken, added another tablespoon of chicken soup base, then threw in the vegetables – 2 cups of sliced carrots, 1 small chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper, 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms, 2 cups of sliced celery, and the remaining chicken breast and three thighs, all chopped. Bring to a boil and simmer until the veggies are tender, about an hour. By now the kitchen is smelling so good and you might have to take a taste of the chicken and rice to stop your tummy from growling. After everything is tender and happy in the pot, make sure the heat is low and add about 1 pound of Velveeta cheese, cubed. Stir until it melts, making sure it doesn’t boil or the cheese will curdle. This is so delicious and it’s also Keto-friendly if you are watching carbs.
The Instant Pot made quick work of cooking the pot roast. I had a three-pound chuck roast. You want to stick with the cheaper pieces of meat for this because the marbling will ensure a tender, juicy result. Set the pot to saute and put in two tbsp. of olive oil. In a small bowl, mix 2 tsps. of salt, 2 tsps. of ground black pepper, 2 tsps. garlic powder and 1 tsp. onion powder. Rub this all over the roast and when the oil in the pot is hot, put it in there and brown it on all sides. Once it is brown, remove to a plate and add 1 cup of beef stock or 1 tbsp. beef soup base and 1 cup of water. Use a wooden spoon to scrape all the browned bits off of the bottom. Turn pot off and add the roast back in, along with 3 more cups of stock or water and soup base. Put the lid on and make sure it is sealed. Cook at manual or high pressure for 45 minutes. Once the cooking time is up, do a quick release. Once the pin drops, open the lid and add 4 chopped potatoes and 2 cups of carrots. Replace the lid and set to manual for five more minutes, then do a natural pressure release. This may take up to 30 minutes, but is totally worth it.
Once the pressure is released, remove the roast and vegetables to a large platter. Turn the pot to saute and add a slurry of 2 tbsp. each cornstarch and cold water to the remaining liquid in the pot and stir until the gravy is thickened. This is delicious and will make you excited that you can feed your family pot roast on a weeknight.
Finally, the taco soup is a fix it and forget it dish. Brown 11/2 lbs. of 90/10 ground beef in a large stock pot with one small chopped onion. Once the meat is browned, dump in 2 small cans corn, undrained, 1 can kidney beans, undrained, 2 cans pinto beans, undrained, 1 can stewed tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups of water, and1 large can hominy, drained, (yum!) and mix it up. Add in 1 package taco seasoning and a package of dry ranch dip mix. Stir it all well and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally until you are ready to eat it. Serve it with tortilla chips and topped with shredded cheddar cheese. So good!
That’s five easy meals that can be made in an afternoon. Like I told the girls, clean as you go so you don’t end up with a mess and always take good care of your cooking tools. Cooking can be fun and can bridge the generation gap because everyone likes to eat.
None of these dishes cost much to prepare. I buy the chicken frozen in 10 pound bags. One thing you will learn over time is how to keep a pantry stocked with basics that make it easy to throw together a meal without a trip to the grocery store. Hopefully you will try one of these dishes with your family. There aren’t any weird flavors that turn kids off. Always remember that presentation is part of the recipe, take a little extra effort to make your plate look pretty.
By Chris Lundstrom. Chris Lundstrom is just a normal person who likes to cook for her family and friends. Share your recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.