January 19, 2008

Starring role for a movie night dinner: super easy baked chicken.

Friday night movie night with friends seemed like a good idea at the time. Tuesday night we decided to invite another couple over for dinner and a movie (3:10 to Yuma (Widescreen Edition)), and I thought I would make dinner. Simple enough, right? As the week wore on, I started thinking it was a mistake. Friday I would still have to work a full day, then I'd have to go home, tidy up the house, and make a good dinner for the four of us, keeping in mind that we'd need to eat relatively early so that we weren't starting the movie too late. Panic set in. How was I going to pull this off without getting stressed or making a ho hum meal.

I did a little research on some recipe sites (All Recipes and Food Network), and got some ideas for a menu. My strategy was to keep it simple, adding flavor and variety without adding to the labor. I settled on what The Bob called "chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans." But I called "Baked Chicken with Cheese and Creamy Sauce, The Most Delicious Green Beans Ever, and Twice Baked Potatoes Only Not Really."

Here's the recipe for the chicken... (Look for the other two recipes in future posts.)

Here's what you need:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Poultry seasoning
1/4 lb. Gruyere cheese, shredded (on the large holes of a box grater)
1 can cream of celery soup
1/4 c. water
About 2 c. herb seasoned stuffing mix
1/2 stick butter, melted

Here's all you do:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a rectangular casserole with non-stick spray. Place chicken side by side in dish (in mine they just fit the pan, touching) and sprinkle with poultry seasoning (eyeball it). Cover the chicken with the shredded cheese, evenly covering all the breasts.
2. Combine the soup and the water and pour over the chicken and cheese. Take a couple big handfuls of the stuffing mix, crush in your hands and sprinkle over all. Drizzle with the butter.
3. Bake for anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. Mine took an hour and a half, because they were really large chicken breasts. Let them sit for about 7-10 minutes. Serve them up and take the compliments!

This chicken literally took me 5 minutes to throw together and put in the oven. That gave me time to get the "Twice Baked Potatoes Only Not Really" ready for the oven (I put them in the oven 30 minutes into the chicken cooking time). The Most Delicious Green Beans Ever came together on the stove top and cooked away while I freshened up.

By the time the doorbell rang, I had everything under control so we could visit with our friends and have a little appetizer (bar cheese and pita chips... store bought lovelies) while dinner finished up. It was a hit.

Notes on this recipe. You could substitute slices of Swiss cheese for the Gruyere. I intend to use this as a base recipe and mix up the ingredients, but keep the method the same. Cream of chicken, or even cream of mushroom soup would work. I'll use whatever kind of cheese I have on hand - smoked cheddar or swiss would be good. I'm thinking of a Tex-Mex take on this with Monterey Jack cheese and nacho cheese soup mixed with a little salsa. Or an Italian version with mozzarella cheese and a pasta sauce instead of the soup. In my mind the non-negotiables are the bread crumb or stuffing topping and the butter. (No, this isn't exactly diet food, folks!)

No more sweating a Friday movie night dinner with friends when I have something this easy and quick, not to mention delicious, in my arsenal! Try it and let me know if it works for you!

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