Baked Chicken & Veggies
There are 3 strategies for attempting to feed vegetables to reluctant small children:
1. Go to elaborate lengths to disguise the offending legumes as something more paletable (note: pizzas, pasta sauces and anything mince based are ideal for hiding pureed veg).
2. Keep offering a variety of vegetables in all their beautiful, colourful glory and hope that eventually the little blighters will put something in their mouths.
3. Accept that vegetables will be an inevitable casualty of the the parent-child power struggle of the early years. And pick your battles. (As long as they still eat bananas and strawberry yoghurt and the occasional pea thats something, right?!)
I have to confess that I flit between all 3 strategies on a regular basis. But today, in an optimistic mood fuelled by 8 hours unbroken sleep (a rare treat!), and a fridge bursting with fresh produce (the week's grocery delivery just arrived) I am taking a 'loud and proud' approach to the vegetables in tonight's dinner.
It's a super-simple summery chicken and vegetable recipe, that after 5 minutes of chopping, just gets chucked in the oven in one dish and then can be served in multiple ways to keep even the pickiest family members happy. In 45 minutes you can produce all this:
For adults…...and for little people…...
(Note: These 8 portions were all made using one batch of the recipe below)
If you missed my last blog, here’s the concept: I’m coming up with a series of easy, nutritious recipes which work ‘3 ways’ – so that the same meal can be:
1. A delicious, healthy adult dish
2. Well-balanced kid-friendly food/baby finger food
3. Nutritious purees for anyone in the family who likes to be spoon fed
If you have a food processor handy, and you're feeling inspired, then please do have a go at making your own pesto. Its so easy, and you can mix it up with all kinds of different herbs! But if that feels like one step too far, this dish is just as yum with shop-bought pesto and a few fresh mint leaves thrown in for added zing!
I can already tell you how this recipe will go down with my 3. The toddler is inexplicably obsessed with mushrooms (he doesn't consider them to be vegetables), and will happily eat chicken and onions, but it's anyone's guess whether he'll even touch any of the other ingredients. Twin One is currently my top eater and will eat anything I put in front of her (I'm well aware this could change at a moments notice, so am enjoying it while it lasts). Twin Two will guzzle everything red (peppers and tomatoes) from his own, and everyone else's plates, and eat the cous cous. (He's not so keen on the chicken but I'll chop it up small and mix it with cous cous and he'll be none the wiser).
So, enough chat. here it is………….
Summery Baked Chicken and Veggies with Lemon & Mint Pesto Dressing
Makes: 2-3 adult portions and 2-4 child portions
Takes: 45 mins max (10-15 minutes to prepare and serve, plus 30 minutes in the oven, during which there's another 5-10 minutes of prep if you make your own pesto)
Ingredients if you use shop-bought pesto:
- 2 chicken breasts (approx. 300g skinless, boneless meat)
- 2 red onions
- 2 peppers
- 1 courgette
- 200grams mushrooms
- 100 grams cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil (olive, coconut, rapeseed….whatever you like to use)
- 1 juicy lemon
- 100 grams dry cous cous
- 125ml boiling water
- 1 little gem lettuce, to serve
- 150 grams basil pesto OR 1 batch homemade pesto (see recipe below)
- small handful fresh mint leaves (optional garnish)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Find your largest oven proof dish or baking tray. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
- Wash all your veg.
- Chop the pepper, courgette and mushrooms into chunks (big enough for little fingers to hold the pieces when they’re cooked) and put them all in the baking dish. (If the mushrooms are small, just leave them whole.)
4. Cut the tomatoes in half but do not add them to the dish (they will be left uncooked)
5. Peel the onions and cut them into eighths. Add the pieces to the oven dish.
6. Cut the chicken breast into chunky slices and add them to the dish.
7. Drizzle over the oil and the juice of half a lemon. (keep the other half of the lemon for later) and use your hands or a big spoon to mix all the raw ingredients together well so that they are all coated in oil and lemon juice.
8. Pop the baking tray in the oven for 30 minutes. There’s no need to stir it during cooking, but you may want to check after 25 minutes as it might be done by then – every oven is different.
9. While the chicken and veggies bake, make the pesto dressing. If using ready-made pesto, just measure it into a bowl, add the juice of ½ a lemon and stir to make a drizzle-able sauce. If you’re making it from scratch then follow the instructions at the end of this recipe.
10. Meanwhile, boil the kettle and put the cous cous in a bowl. Pour boiling water over it, stir briefly and then leave it to absorb for 5 minutes before fluffing it up with a fork. The easiest way to do this is to place the cous cous bowl on the scales and measure the boiling water straight from the kettle (125ml water is the same as 125grams on the scales)
11. To serve the adult portions, separate whole leaves of the lettuce to create little lettuce bowls. Wash these and keep them crisp in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
12. After 30 minutes the chicken and veggies should be cooked. Check the chicken by cutting a piece in half to make sure there is no pinkness in the meat. Feel free to bake it for another 5 minutes if you think it needs it. Stir the cherry tomatoes into the hot cooked veggies.
13. And now you have the 4 elements: Baked Chicken and Veggies, Cous cous, lettuce and mint leaves and zingy lemony pesto sauce:
So, it's time to have some fun playing around with how to serve them. Here are some ideas:
- Carb-free warm summer salad for adults - Skip the cous cous and pile warm chicken and veggies into lettuce leaves, then drizzle with pesto sauce.
- Cous Cous, Chicken & Veggie Salad scoops – use little gem lettuce leaves as edible bowls to fill with cous cous, and the chilled chicken and veggies.
- Baked Chicken and Veggies with Mint pesto cous cous - stir a tablespoon of pesto through a portion of the cous cous and serve warm with a fresh mint leaf garnish and shredded lettuce leaves alongside.
- Finger Food Nibble plate with Cous Cous & Green dipping sauce - ideal for little people who like dipping and exploring new flavours.
- Chopped Veggies and Green cous cous with Baked Chicken on the side - a flavourful cous cous salad (served warm or cold) with all the veggies chopped up small, and juicy chunks of chicken.
- Chopped Chicken Cous Cous with Veggies on the side - ideal for little people who need some persuasion to eat meat. In our house cous cous is 'teeny pasta' and is an easy sell with little bits of chicken chopped up into it.
- Pureed version of the meal for spoon-fed babies - Add enough water or milk to a portion of the chicken, veggies and cous cous and blend it to make a smooth or lumpy puree. You can omit the pesto if you want this to be a totally salt-free option.
- Vegetarians could leave out the chicken, or add slices of halloumi cheese instead half way through the vegetable cooking time.
- For a gluten free option, try substituting the cous cous for Qinoa or rice.
- For a dairy free pesto just double the quantity of pine nuts and leave out the cheese.
Homemade Mint Pesto Recipe
- 50 grams pine nuts
- ½ garlic clove, peeled
- 50 grams fresh mint and/or parsley leaves (or try any soft green herb – basil, coriander, chives or a combination all work well)
- 40 grams parmesan, or grana padano cheese, roughly chopped
- 75ml extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon (you may not need it all)
- Salt and pepper
- First toast the pine nuts for a couple of minutes in a dry frying pan until they are just starting to turn golden brown. Be careful to keep them moving, they burn fast! Note: you can skip this step – but toasting the pine nuts ramps up their flavour! Leave them to cool for a couple of minutes.
- Then just put the pine nuts, garlic, green herbs, and cheese into a food processor and blitz them for a minute.
- Add the oil, and continue blitzing until the consistency is a thick, moist paste.
- Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Go easy on the salt, as the parmesan is fairly salty, and lemon juice adds plenty of flavour. Just add half the lemon juice first, and then more if you think it needs it.
Note: Any left over pesto keeps well in a jar in the fridge for at least a week covered with a layer of oil