Convenience Foods Make Weeknight Cooking a Snap

Sunday April 20, 2014

feeding the chickens at chatsworth estate in england in evening dress

Poultry is the ultimate weeknight supper. But how to jazz up the old standbys and not add a lot of time in the process? Enter the boneless chicken breast since the bone-in breasts and legs cook at drastically different times. They cook exceptionally fast and are extremely versatile. The secret is seasoning and accompaniments. And good poultry can taste so good and still be very, very simple. Of course, always remember that organization of your ingredients and equipment is essential to fast cooking.

Don’t pass up a jar of marinara sauce, puff pastry, pre-made pie crust and frozen vegetables, or condensed soup as a savory aid to making your dish. At times, making everything from scratch is just not possible and the commercial products are now of a very high quality. Keep your pantry stocked with your essentials. Here are three favorites.

Chicken Divan Casserole

Of course you are thinking there is no way to make a casserole on a weeknight. Well, here is one of the tastiest versions of the delightful chicken Divan and most certainly the fastest I ever came across. It originally came off the label of a can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup and it is a winner. Nothing is precooked; all you do is chop the broccoli and layer the ingredients. Don’t be tempted to add more cheese; it is a whisper of flavor. Be sure to pound the chicken breasts a bit or else it will take longer to cook. Serve with peeled sweet potato chunks doused with some olive oil roasted in the oven the same time as the casserole.

Cooking Method: Oven

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves 4


1 bunch broccoli, chopped to make 4 full cups florets

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2-pounds total), pounded to 1/2-inch thick

1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed Cream of Chicken soup

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup shredded mild or sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup plain fine dry breadcrumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon unsalted butter


Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a deep 2-quart casserole with non-stick vegetable cooking spray. Arrange the broccoli in an even layer over the bottom. Place the chicken breasts on top of the broccoli in a single layer. In a small bowl, whisk together the soup, milk, and wine; pour over the chicken and broccoli. Sprinkle with a layer of the cheddar cheese and dust with the bread crumbs mixed with the Parmesan. Dot the top with butter and place in the oven. Bake 30 minutes, uncovered, until broccoli is tender and chicken juices run clear when pierced with the tip of a knife. Use an oversized spoon to serve and dive in.

Easiest Chicken Parm

I am a Soprano’s fan and I just adore when Carmela casually says, “There’s chicken Parm tonight, Tony.” This is the fastest and easiest recipe I know for the lovely Italian staple dinner dish that I adapted from an advertisement for Prego brand Italian tomato sauce. You can pound the breasts slightly to flatten more if you wish. Keep jars of your favorite marinara sauce in the pantry, some type of Italian melting cheese (I love Provolone so buy a few slices in the supermarket deli) and Parmesan in the fridge, and you are good to go. Don’t add any salt; there is plenty in the cheese and jarred sauce. Serve with rice or fresh pasta. And please don’t forget some fresh crusty bread to dip in the delicious sauce.

Cooking Method: Stovetop

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves 4


1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2-pounds total)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 3 tablespoons more for sprinkling

1 1/2 cups marinara sauce of choice

4 1/4-inch thick slices Provolone, Italian fontina, Scamorza, or whole milk mozzarella


Heat the oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 10 minutes, until nicely browned; turn once to brown both sides. Stir the 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese into the marinara sauce and add to the skillet. Cover and reduce the heat to a medium simmer. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through (cut with a knife to check) and no pink is left. Lay a slice of cheese over each breast and sprinkle with a bit more Parmesan. Cover and let stand 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Serve immediately with some sauce spooned around the chicken.

Classic Chicken Pot Pie

You will appreciate the convenience in this recipe from cookbook writer Rick Rodgers, developed while he was writing his chicken book for Williams-Sonoma. It is easy enough to make for a weeknight supper, as it utilizes frozen mixed veggies and store-bought ready to roll out pie crust, which are tremendous time savers (if you are a wiz with whipping up your own crust, definitely do so). “The secret of great pot pie is chicken thighs, as they stay juicy,” says Rick, “whereas chicken breast can easily get overcooked and tough.  I use the same formula with leftover turkey meat (consider a store-bought rotisserie turkey breast), allowing about 3 cups of cubed meat.  I do saute it briefly just to warm it up in the butter, then proceed with the flour and other ingredients to make the sauce.”  You only need a green salad to go with this one-dish meal.

Cooking Method: Stovetop and Oven

Cook Time: About 50 minutes total

Serves 4


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 1 1/4-pounds, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

2 tablespoons chopped shallots

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups canned chicken broth

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup half-and-half

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

One 1-pound bag of thawed frozen vegetable medley (use your favorite blend, such as carrots, corn, green beans, and peas)

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 (15-ounce) package roll-out refrigerated piecrust, softened as directed (1 sheet or if you like a thicker crust, use the full package or 2 sheets)

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water, for glaze


Preheat to 400°F with rack on center position. Grease a 9-inch deep dish Pyrex or ceramic pie plate.

In a large 12-inch skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook uncovered, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 8 minutes. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and stir to coat well. Stir in the broth, wine, half-and-half, and parsley and bring to a simmer. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the thawed vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the pie plate.

Roll out the pie crust to a 10-inch diameter and brush the egg glaze in a 1-inch wide border around the outside of the crust. Place the crust, egg side down, covering the filling, and press the crust onto the sides of the dish to seal; it is okay if it is a bit uneven. Brush the top of the crust lightly with the egg glaze. Cut a few slits in the crust with the tip of a knife. Place the pan on a baking sheet to prevent drips. Bake in the center of the oven until the crust is a nice golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately, portioning filling and some crust with an oversized spoon, while hot.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Weeknight Cooking, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2008, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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