TBR List Declutter, Issue 37


There are no obvious invertebrates in today’s Visual Interest, so it’s safe to tell you about “Chicken Casserole.” I put “Chicken Casserole” in quotes because I always think of canned soup and noodles or rice when I think of casserole, and in that sense, this isn’t a casserole. Rather than trying to figure out what it is if it’s not a casserole, I just call it a “casserole.”

This is another 100% Trader Joe’s recipe, although it doesn’t have to be. None of the ingredients is necessarily TJ’s specific except the salsa, and really, you can use whatever salsa you want. Ro-tel tomatoes would also work here.


  • 3-5 frozen boneless, skinless chicken thighs (however many fit in the bottom of the pan in a single layer). You can also use thawed if you plan ahead a little.
  • 1 bag frozen corn
  • 1 can (14.5 ozs) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 jar TJ’s Garlic Chipotle Salsa, or 16 ounces of your salsa of choice

Place chicken thighs in a single layer in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Pour corn, beans, and salsa over the top, mixing around a bit if you so desire. It seems to mix itself pretty well while cooking, but sometimes I mix it around just to make it feel like I’m doing more work than I actually am. Just make sure the chicken stays in a single layer.

Cook at 425°F for about 1 hour or until chicken registers at least 165°F on a meat thermometer. I’m paranoid about undercooking chicken, so I usually aim for something closer to 200°F, and it seems to come out fine.

And that’s it. You could probably serve it with rice or something, but we usually don’t bother with anything but a vegetable on the side.

Visual Interest:



Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 451-470:

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Spicy Chicken, Tomato, and Rice in the Slow Cooker

It’s been a long time (like, four years) since I published a recipe post. I used to publish them a lot, testing out new recipes and variations on old recipes and scarfing down the failures and successes alike, until I noticed a correlation between recipe blogging and the upward progression of the numbers on my bathroom scale, especially once we moved to the suburbs and my incidental physical activity decreased dramatically. So, I cooled my jets on food-related posts for a while.

Then when I was in Utah recently (yes, I’m mentioning Utah again, but it’s just a passing mention this time), I stumbled upon a simple skillet-to-oven way to cook chicken. When I got home, I modified it for the slow cooker and decided to share the results with the Internet. Read More

Kitchenette Dinners, or Hotel Home-Cooking

As I’ve mentioned, we’re still living in a hotel. It’s a nice extended-stay type hotel with a little kitchenette and reliable wifi, but it’s been almost a month since we lived in a house, and I’m kind of missing some things.

Like my kitchen.

Every morning the hotel serves breakfast downstairs, and Monday through Thursday evenings, they serve a “light dinner.” Tonight was meatloaf and mashed potatoes; I’m not sure how that qualifies as “light,” but it’s the hotel’s descriptor, not mine.

Because I don’t eat gluten or dairy or undercooked eggs, there’s not much on offer for me at these meals. I’ll attend dinner when they have their “barbecue” theme and serve hamburgers, and I get their decaf from downstairs every morning, but mostly I eat my meals in the room. When someone offers me free food, I feel fairly neutral about it. It’s there whether I eat it or not, so if I don’t want it, why would I eat it?

My husband does not share this opinion about free food. When my husband is offered free food, he sees it as a challenge. I try to explain that they make more than they need and it’s not “wasting” if he doesn’t gorge himself, but he doesn’t seem to see my logic. To him, the more he eats, the more money he saves. To me, the more eggs and sausage and home fries he chows down on, the more likely we’re going to have to pay for some kind of heart procedure down the line a few years.

We are, however, both putting on weight living here. His is because of the free food. Mine is because the one place I’ve found to buy food is Trader Joe’s, and living in a hotel room is the perfect excuse to buy convenience foods that I otherwise never let myself buy. Beef tamales? Yes, please! Chocolate-covered frozen banana slices? Better get two boxes! A hummus quartet? Heck, I could live on nothing but hummus and those tiny rice crackers. And don’t even mention the wines.

I don’t think I’m eating too poorly. I’m just driving more and eating more and visiting the gym never (they’ve got a fitness room here but I find it excruciatingly boring to jog on the treadmill while watching at full volume a documentary about the Loch Ness Monster). The kitchenette is better than nothing, but it’s fairly rudimentary compared to my kitchen at home. The kitchenette has three not-so-sharp knives, one teeny cutting board, and one small colander. This setup doesn’t lend itself well to the rather complex meals I’m used to preparing.

So, what exactly am I cooking for dinner for myself?

Here’s one example:

This is the basic gmish.

When they sampled  it at the store, they used the Trader Joe’s brand Soyaki sauce. But that’s got wheat in it, so I passed on that and created my own. It’s Trader Joe’s pre-cooked frozen chicken breast strips, their canned pineapple chunks (with juice), and a sauce made of wheat-free tamari, canned minced garlic, fresh ginger, and a touch of honey. I mixed the sauce while thawing the chicken, then tossed it all together.

I was going to serve it over rice, but I forgot to cook the rice. So these are the ways I served it, one night and then the next night:

Over salad (lettuce, cucumber, bell pepper)



Surrounded by steamed broccoli (TJ’s ready-cut organic broccoli steamed in the microwave).

It’s pretty good stuff. But I get tired of pineapple pretty quickly. I bought more of the chicken strips, but I think I’m just going put them on salad and call it a day. Or I guess I could dip them in hummus.

What $5 wine would pair with chicken strips dipped in hummus with chocolate-covered frozen bananas for dessert?

My New Comfort Food: Oyako Donburi

Oyako donburi means “parent and child rice dish.” It’s called parent and child because it has both chicken and egg in it. If you make it with beef and egg, it’s apparently called “stranger and child” which sounds kind of ominous. I’m thinking since I used turkey broth in it, I could call it “parent and child and cousin,” but I’d have to call it that in English because I don’t know the word for “cousin” in Japanese.

Oyako donburi is another dish my friend Amanda shared with me. She’s taught me a number of awesome Japanese dishes, even though neither of us is Japanese. She did live there for a period of time and can speak the language, which is more than I can say for myself. I just like the food. Of the language, I only know what I’ve gathered from cooking and the Buddhist temple (and I usually mess those up when I try to say them).

My recipe is a combination of Amanda’s, one from My Kitchen, and some modifications I made based on what was in my kitchen (ie, it called for dashi and I didn’t have that or the stuff to make it, but I did have homemade turkey broth in the freezer. And I didn’t have green onions, but my kids don’t like green onions anyway).

At any rate, my family loved it (except for my daughter who didn’t like the “oil” even when I told her there was no oil in it. “Whatever it is, I don’t like it,” she proclaimed). My husband said, “Oh! It’s Japanese comfort food!” And it was incredibly easy to make.

Oyaku Donburi

Serves 4

Prep time: 40-60 minutes, less if your rice is already cooked and you don’t have to thaw your broth.


Cooked brown rice (about three cups)

1 quart turkey broth (you could use chicken broth or dashi or veggie broth or mushroom broth. I probably could have gotten away with 2-3 cups broth)

1/4 c tamari or soy sauce

1/4 c mirin

2 T sugar (I’m going to use 1 T next time I make it…it was a little sweet with 2)

1 package boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4), cut into 1/4 inch strips

2 carrots, sliced thin

1 small onion, chopped or sliced thin

4 eggs, beaten well

1. Bring the broth, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar to a boil in a large skillet or saucepan. Allow to reduce slightly


while you’re prepping the other ingredients.

2. Add the chicken pieces, carrot and onion and cook until done (I don’t know, about 15 minutes?).

3. Gently pour the beaten egg over the top and cover tightly. Let cook until eggs are set to your taste. I like mine well, well cooked, but there seem to be people online who like runny oyako, which pretty much turns my stomach to think about.

4. Spoon rice into each individual bowl and spoon the oyako over the rice. Enjoy!

Bok Choy Redux

After my last bok choy recipe, I had several requests for more ways to eat bok choy.

We eat a lot of bok choy. We usually have it twice a week. It’s super-high in nutrients, and is one of the best non-dairy food sources of calcium out there. Plus, it’s just so yummy. I’ve even gotten my mom and my sister hooked on it, and they’re pretty much Midwestern eaters.

One of our staple recipes is stir fry. This is a recipe that’s developed over time and I kind of wing it every time I make it, following some basic guidelines more than a recipe. I’ll give you the guidelines, and then try to set up something resembling a recipe.

General stir fry guidelines:

-There are three main components to my stir fry: protein (chicken, beef, pork, or tofu), greens (bok choy or savoy cabbage), and other vegetables (almost always carrots, but other veggies we use include snap peas, bell peppers, water chestnuts, and baby corn (these are kid crowd-pleasers)). I try to use no more than 3 veggies total (greens plus two others). In addition, I make a marinade/sauce and either rice or rice noodles to serve the stir fry over.

-Do not overcook your stir fry. This requires the use of high heat and a well heated skillet. The veggies will still have some crunch but will be bright green and flavorful when done.

-Don’t use a wok unless you’ve got the whole authentic setup. Regular western residential stoves don’t have a large enough flame to make a wok hot enough on a large enough surface to cook everything quickly and evenly. Just use a big (like 12+ inches) skillet with straight sides.

-Use the right kind of oil. Because you’re cooking with high heat, you need oil with a high smoke point. I usually use a combination of canola and toasted sesame oil (the latter is for flavor. If you don’t like sesame, you can use all canola).

-Get all of your ingredients cut up ahead of time and lined up in the proper order before you start cooking (you’ll add the longest-cooking veggies first). Once you begin, it only takes a couple of minutes to cook.

-Cut the ingredients in uniform thickness and size. You can vary the sizes, just make sure that the veggies you’re adding at the same time are about the same size so they take about the same length of time to cook.

-If you’re using tofu, press it between a couple of layers of paper towel  and two plates. Weight the top plate with a couple of heavy cans to press the excess moisture from the tofu. Press the tofu in the fridge for several hours or overnight, before you cut it. This will help the tofu hold together when you fry it. Some people freeze the tofu, then thaw it, which is supposed to make it firmer. I’ve never tried this method.

And that’s about it. Once you’ve got the guidelines down, you can vary the ingredients to suit your own tastes and sense of adventure.

Now, the pseudo-recipe to get you started.

Chicken and Bok Choy Stir Fry with Brown Rice

Marinade Ingredients:

1/2 c soy sauce

1/2 c mirin

~1 T sweetener (I use either brown sugar or agave nectar)

~1 t granulated garlic

~1 t powdered ginger

(you can use fresh garlic and ginger, I just rarely take the time to. This is our quick meal, and peeling ginger doesn’t seem quick to me.)

Mix marinade ingredients together in a shallow glass pan large enough to accommodate the meat. (I don’t usually marinate tofu, I just use the marinade as a sauce.)

Other ingredients:

2-3 T canola oil

1-2 T toasted sesame oil

1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breasts or thighs, sliced quite thin (~1/4-inch thick) across the grain

1 bunch bok choy, rinsed and sliced thin

3-4 carrots, scrubbed and sliced on the bias

~2 c snap peas, rinsed and strings removed. You can cut them in half so they’re not so long, if you like. This is optional.

Put the chicken in to marinate in the fridge, then start the rice. Basic rice cooking directions: place 3 c water and 1.5 c long-grain brown rice in a saucepan (you can rinse the rice first, if desired). Cover and bring to a bowl. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, over very low heat for 40-60 minutes or until all water is absorbed. At altitude, this takes closer to 60 minutes. At sea level, it’s closer to 40 minutes.

Prep all of your veggies and place them in separate bowls, lined up next to your skillet.

Heat ~1 T canola oil and ~ 1/2 T toasted sesame oil in a large skillet until very hot. The surface of the oil will look somewhat psychedelic and tiny wisps of smoke will be coming up from the edges. Using tongs, lift up scoops of chicken from the marinade, letting the excess sauce drip back into the marinade container. Add the chicken to the skillet. Once all chicken is added, stir it pretty constantly until it’s no longer pink inside. Remove from skillet and set aside.

While the chicken cooks, put the remaining marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes until it’s reduced slightly. (This will give a nice, concentrated sauce and kill any bacteria from the chicken.) If it reduces too much, just add a few tablespoons of water to thin.

Add another ~1 T or so of oil to the skillet and let heat again. Add the sliced carrots and cook for a couple of minutes until bright orange. Add your snap peas and stir fry for about a minute until they’re just bright green. Then add your bok choy and stir fry until it wilts slightly and the top leaves are just bright green. Stir the chicken back in. Remove from heat when the chicken has gotten hot again.

Serve the stir fry over brown rice with the sauce spooned over it.

There's brown rice under there, I promise.