Next year my daughter, Caroline, will be heading off to college (cue tears)! And while that may be 12 months away, the time will be here before I know it and I can’t stop thinking of ways to prepare her before she is on her own … especially cooking!
The food industry and products on the market today are so different than when I was Caroline’s age. Back then no one was really worried about processed food — in fact, that lingo was even on the radar at the time. (No, I am not divulging my age, but let’s just say I know all the lyrics to any Cyndi Lauper song you can think of.) And while I know she will probably eat her fair share of fast food, Ramen noodles and cereal (aka “the standard college student’s diet”), I also want to be sure my daughter is eating some good, nutritious foods.
So, this got me thinking about the most basic types of meals she, or any other person about to live on their own, should be able to easily make in their kitchen with simple ingredients that taste GOOD! Here is a great dinner option that balances all the food groups — including the lesser know category of dessert 😉 — AND makes enough for leftovers and other meal options. A win-win! Just make sure your child puts a slow cooker on the graduation gift wish list.
The great thing about backed chicken is how versatile it is. Use it to make chicken salad, enchiladas, chicken and rice, or just steam some vegetables and supper is ready. This recipe is really easy, uses ingredients you probably already have on hand, and always comes out moist and delicious!
- 4-5 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
- Olive Oil
- Lemon juice
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Pat chicken breasts dry and place on a shallow baking sheet. (I put a layer of aluminum foil in the bottom and use a little bit of non-stick spray for easier clean-up.) Salt and pepper the chicken and drizzle olive oil on top. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes until cooked thoroughly. As soon as you take it out of the oven, spritz with lemon juice and cover with aluminum foil for about 10 minutes to absorb flavor.
Steaming vegetables seems like it would be easy, but believe me, I have eaten far too many soggy messes of broccoli to agree. Here’s my no fail advice for flavor and ease.
- Vegetables (your choice, either pre-cut or cut yourself)
- 1 cup of chicken broth
- Butter (or olive oil)
Before you begin, think about the texture of your vegetables. Different vegetables cook at different rates. (Hint: Broccoli and carrots work well together, but zucchini and broccoli don’t cook in the same amount of time.)
Place vegetables and 1 cup of chicken broth in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer for 3-5 minutes. Add just a bit of butter or olive oil. Viola! Delicious steamed vegetables.
Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese
So far everything sounds really healthy, right? Well, here comes the not so healthy, but oh so comforting side dish! And because your slow cooker is doing the work, there’s little to be done on your end.
- 1 box of macaroni noodles
- Non-stick spray
- 1/2 a stick of butter
- 16 oz package of Velveeta
- 1 1/2 cup of milk
- 12 oz can of evaporated milk
- 2 eggs
Bring macaroni noodles to a boil. As they are boiling, spray your slow cooker with non-stick spray. Place half a stick of butter in the bottom of a slow cooker, along with Velveeta and half a cup of milk. Turn slow cooker to high.
When the noodles are ready, place in slow cooker and stir together to coat. This should melt the butter and (mostly) the cheese.
TURN THE SLOW COOKER DOWN TO LOW!
Add salt and pepper to taste, along with evaporated milk. Once again, stir to coat. Then beat 2 eggs with the remaining one cup of milk and incorporate into the macaroni mixture. Place lid on slow cooker and allow to cook for two hours uninterrupted … then enjoy! Easy, right?
Notes: I like my macaroni pretty creamy, so I add a bit more milk after it’s finished cooking and stir until it’s the consistency I like. Also, do not let mac and cheese sit more than four hours or it becomes gummy — refrigerate leftovers before this time frame to keep its freshness.
What meal would be complete without dessert? My advice to a beginner cook is follow the directions on a box of brownie mix, buy vanilla ice cream and slather on the chocolate sauce and your favorite toppings! There’s plenty of time later on to master grandma’s famous pound cake!