Cook Once, Eat Thrice


Last week, I looked at the calendar and when I sussed out everyone’s schedule, I saw that for at least three nights we would all be home at different times in the evening, but all needing dinner.

Wishing to maximize healthy meal options and minimize takeout expenses and preparing dinner multiple times a day, I devised a rather nifty plan. I made a large batch of marinated, grilled chicken the first night. Then I repurposed the leftovers to create essentially new meals on successive nights. If anyone was the wiser, they didn’t complain much, and that alone is rather newsworthy.

All-Purpose Grilled Chicken

Grilled chicken | Etienne Voss/Thinkstock

Serves four with leftovers

I chose a pretty generic marinade because I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do with the chicken down the road.  As long as you have the basics included — a fat, an acid and some seasonings — your marinade will do the trick. Feel free to use a premade marinade or even salad dressing.

I served the chicken with sautéed pea shoots and plain brown rice for a simple, healthy Sunday night dinner.

  • 3 pounds boneless chicken breasts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • ¼ cup white wine

Prepare the chicken pieces: Cut them in half horizontally/lengthwise to reduce thickness of each piece and ensure even cooking. I cut each in two, but if your pieces are very thick you may end up with three. Aim for cutlets a half-inch thick at most.

In a large Ziploc bag, mix the chicken with the marinade ingredients and allow it to sit in the refrigerator for between two and 24 hours.

About an hour before cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.

Heat a grill to high, and sear both sides of the chicken, allowing about 1 minute each side.

Lower the heat and/or push pieces away from direct heat, allowing the chicken to cook about 6 minutes more per side. Remove the chicken from the heat, cover it with foil, and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Enjoy.

Salad with Last Night’s Chicken

Chicken salad | bhofack2/iStockphoto

Serves two to three

Sprinkling the brown rice into this salad made it a bit heartier and filling, which worked well as a dinner. I used a basic balsamic dressing, but be as creative as you like. Ginger teriyaki calling your name? Chipotle lime? Honey mustard? Go for it.

I happened to have a delightfully ripe avocado and some raw beets on hand, which added a wonderful color and texture to the dish, but use whatever you have available: apples, nuts, onions, carrots, celery, etc.

  • 1 package of your favorite baby greens
  • 1 ripe avocado (spritz with lemon juice to avoid browning)
  • 1 beet, peeled and sliced
  • 2 or 3 pieces of last night’s chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • ½ cup brown rice (or more if desired)

For the dressing:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Generous sprinkle of pepper
  • Scant sprinkle garlic powder

Place the lettuce in a large, shallow bowl. Top it with the remaining ingredients as desired.

Mix the dressing ingredients with a fork in a small bowl and drizzle it over the salad.

Toss and enjoy.

Taco Tuesday

Chicken tacos | juliedeshaies/Thinkstock

I can usually sell anything to kids by wrapping it in a tortilla. This meal was no exception.

By chopping the chicken a bit more finely and tossing it with your favorite salsa, you further disguise the fact that this is the third degree of leftovers. I am a big fan of green tomatillo salsa, which is what I used, but you are free to use any condiment your crew prefers: picante sauce, red salsa, chipotle, adobo, lime mojo, etc.

Quantities are deliberately vague here; you may have more chicken left and wish to save it for another salad. And depending on what sauce you use, a little may go a long way. I used about a half-cup of green tomatillo salsa for my taco Tuesday, but if you are using chipotles in adobo sauce or habanero, you would burn your taste buds off with a quantity that high. Similarly, a strong lime dressing would be too acidic in large quantities, though perfectly delightful used sparingly. Cook’s choice and judgment on this.

  • The rest of the chicken, chopped finely
  • Your favorite taco sauce or seasoning
  • Tortillas (flour or corn)
  • Fixings: shredded iceberg or romaine lettuce, chopped tomatoes, black or pinto beans, rice, lime wedges, selection of salsa, guacamole

Heat the chopped chicken in a skillet with selected salsa/seasonings.

Heat the tortillas according to package directions.

Serve with the fixings and enjoy. 

Other ways to enjoy all-purpose chicken:

Chicken lettuce wraps | freeskyline/Thinkstock
  • On a sandwich: Slice it thinly and layer it on rye with your favorite condiments.
  • Chicken salad: Chop it finely and toss with celery, mayo, salt and pepper.
  • Pasta: Toss it over plain pasta with cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil.
  • Lettuce wraps: Wrap the chicken pieces in lettuce with rice and/or vegetables and drizzle with your favorite Asian condiment: hoisin, Sriracha, soy or teriyaki.
  • Cheater stir fry: Sauté a selection of vegetables as desired and throw the bite-sized chicken pieces in to warm them at the last second before serving.


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