I’ve gotten into the habit of calling this one “the nice meal” because when I was going through a really rough time emotionally/physically a few months ago, I kept planning to make myself “a nice, hot meal”, and then when I felt I had enough information and energy to try it, it came out amazing. So it’s become The Nice Meal even to my roommates, and the more I make it, the more I find little tweaks to make the meal a little easier to do.
The meal itself is inspired by something my mom used to do, but I found a way to make it a lot easier, and possibly slightly healthier because I add veggies to it and it’s not as greasy. I like it because it’s easy on my stomach when I’m not feeling well, which happens a lot.
And it makes so much for me - I could easily get five meals out of it - and it is SO easy to make or customize. Like, the hardest part is probably washing the dishes afterwards, but if you’re like me and try to wash everything as soon as you’re done with it, the end of the night might not be too overwhelming.
While the recipe in itself is pretty simple, this is gonna be a pretty big post because I talk a lot. I’m sorry in advance.
- An oven.
- 9x13” baking dish. Bigger if you need to feed a small army.
- A large bowl that can easily handle three cans of condensed soup + some extra liquid with stirring room.
- A can opener, if your cans don’t have pull-tops. (Or a spare set of hands if you can’t open pull-tops.)
- Aluminium foil.
- Some silverware; a serving spoon would be good to have, too.
- A pot with a lid to make rice with if you don’t have a rice cooker.
- Good-sized containers for lots of leftovers. (If you can portion them out into single meal sized containers, feel free to do that. I don’t know how well this freezes!)
- Two timers. If your stove as a working timer, use it. If you have a microwave with a timer setting, use it. If you have a phone with a timer, use it. If you have a computer with sound at home, look for a browser-based timer on Google and, you guessed it, use it.
- Alternatively, if you only have one timer but you’re good at remembering what time you left at least one of those things alone, you might be okay. (I’d suggest using your memory for the rice since it’s a shorter wait.)
- Meat of choice. I’ve done this with half chicken breasts and bone-in pork chops (both are delicious, though I think I like the pork slightly better), but I assume that this would easily work with just about anything and could even be altered to be vegetarian. Feel free to experiment with this. If you’re planning on making this for more than one person, probably best to go for boneless stuff that you can cut into pieces and spread across the dish. I haven’t tried to make this with more than one piece of bone-in meat… I don’t think it’d take a whole lot longer to cook two or three half-breasts or chops, but don’t take my word for it.
- Frozen veggies. This is totally optional if you can’t stomach veggies, but if you like well-done veggies, it’s so easy. I’ve used frozen bell pepper/onion mixes, stir-fry mixes (one I have has asparagus, green beans, cauliflower, yellow squash, grated carrots, onions, and mushrooms), frozen peas… they all work just fine. Fresh veggies will also work if you can handle chopping/grating them, but they have to be in relatively small pieces. Canned veggies will also work, if you want to use them. If you REALLY like mushrooms, throwing in a can of sliced mushrooms works great.
- Butter. Margarine or a butter substitute will also work, but this is also probably optional, since I tend to use both butter and vegetable oil.
- Spices. Again, whatever you like will probably work. This last time I used celery salt, seasoned salt, ginger, and cayenne pepper for a bit of spice. You may want to be a bit liberal with the salt, because it’s all going to be diluted later by soup and rice, but you can also add salt on your own plate just fine if you have or if you’re cooking for someone with lower-sodium needs.
- Creamy soups. You can probably easily switch this up and make it into a salsa-like tomato-based dish, or a brothy dish like a chicken soup with loads of chicken broth, whatever you might prefer or need for dietary reasons, but this is what I like to use: cans of Campbell’s cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, cream of celery, one each. I like this combo, but again, feel totally free to switch it up. (Last time I had accidentally bought cream of mushroom with roasted garlic which I didn’t even know existed, and it was amazing. I think I’ll get it on purpose from now on!)
- Milk. Totally optional.
- Chicken broth. Probably also optional. You could possibly use water instead of either of these things, if necessary. Or vegetable broth!
- Rice. Also entirely optional, you could switch this out with mashed potatoes or potatoes “baked” in the microwave and it’d still be great - maybe even pasta, though I haven’t tried it! And you can use any kind of rice you like - minute rice, microwaved Uncle Ben’s rice, brown rice, jasmine, etc. Though I go for plain white rice because I’m boring like that. I’m also quite proud of myself for figuring out how to cook it super easily on the stove (I don’t have a rice cooker), so I’ll throw in instructions for that, too.
Preheat the oven to 350F (176C, unfortunately I can’t get more descriptive than that, though 180C would likely be fine if that’s easier)
While the oven is preheating, get out your baking dish. I don’t think the order particularly matters, because I always get carried away getting out my veggies, so don’t worry about greasing the pan just now if you forget to. It won’t hurt anything.
Dump as many veggies as you like into the dish and spread them out. There’s really no rhyme or reason to this, just do it. Frozen, canned, fresh, I’ve used all of them at the same time and it doesn’t affect anything. I also add garlic and cilantro/coriander paste, just a touch because it’s pretty concentrated.
This is also when I add butter! I don’t use much, I just spread little pieces of it across the dish. I’ll also do chicken broth and oil here, too. Not a lot, just a few splashes.
Add your meat! (When I buy meat I get multipacks and separate them down into freezer bags of single pieces, then thaw them when I need them. This way I can just dump it into the dish and throw away the bag without getting my hands all gross.)
I just nudge it somewhere in the middle of the dish, but if it’s a bunch of little pieces, I’d spread it out evenly across the pan with the veggies. Last time I made this I sliced into a chicken half-breast a few times and slipped butter into the slices. I dunno if it helped anything at all, but it didn’t hurt it, either.
Sprinkle your spices over the top. I’ll turn the meat over to put the spices on the other side of it, but it’s probably not necessary to do that. (Someday I wanna try putting sushi ginger on top of the meat, because I love sushi ginger, but seeing as there are no recipes for cooking with pickled ginger, I’m not sure how that’d turn out. Just thought I’d toss that idea out there.)
Cover that thing in foil and put it in the oven for about 30-40 minutes. (40 minutes for slightly more cooked veggies, best if you use a lot of fresh ones or like them really well done.)
While that’s in the oven, dump your cans of soup into a bowl and mix them up. I’ll use one of the cans and fill it half with broth and half with milk, but you can totally play with the measurements. Add as much or little as you’d like. Just make sure the soups are well mixed. (If there’s any sort of spare dishes you used, it’s probably best to wash them now, but no worries if you can’t.)
Now you can rest for a bit!
PART 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO
When time is up, take the dish out of the oven and carefully peel back the foil. It’ll be really hot and steamy!
Pour the soup mixture over everything in the dish, stir it up a little bit, then put the foil back down and put it back in the oven for another 30-40 minutes. (I wash the bowl and spoon I used afterward to keep the dishes down, as well as rinsing the cans out for recycling.)
This is when I start on the rice. I keep finding a lot of instructions for rice too complicated, but I managed to learn a system that works, at least for white rice.
- You should probably measure how much rice to use and how much water you put into your rice, but I don’t. If you have too much rice, you’ll have leftover rice you can do all kinds of tasty stuff with. It’s kind of a win-win there. I just put enough water in the pot to cover the rice completely, then just slightly more.
- Put the pot on the stove and set it to high to bring it to the boil.
- Once the water starts bubbling, even if it’s only a little bit because the rice is heavy, go ahead and turn it down to the lowest setting and cover it. This needs to sit on the low setting for about 20 minutes. Don’t peek at it, just leave it alone.
- Once the 20 minutes is up, turn off the stove and wait for your meat/veg to be done. Your rice might stick together initially and might be stickier depending on how much water you used, but you should be able to easily break it up and use it mixed in with the soup mixture later.
Now if your rice is done early, rest yourself until the meat is done.
After the second 30-40 minutes ends, take it out of the oven and peel back the foil again. You can either dish it up as it is now, or let it rest for about 15 minutes first.
If you’re making this with a bone-in meat for just yourself, I use the first meal to pick all the bones out and cut the meat into smaller pieces so that I don’t have to do it later. Keep in mind how much meat you want to spread out to the rest of your meals! After I’m done, I put the meat back into the pan, mix it up, then put away the leftovers, mixing the rice in as I go.
And once that’s all put away, all that should be left to do is wash the pot for rice, the baking dish, and whatever you used to eat. If you don’t have the spoons for it all that night, that’s fine too, just make sure the pot and dish get to soak.
But hey! If you’re okay eating the same dinner a few nights in a row, you won’t have to cook again for a few days, and that’s always a bonus.