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Dinner Puzzle Piecespuzzle_pieces_istock_000005653019small

My philosophy for make-aheads includes what I call Dinner Puzzle Pieces (although it applies to breakfast and lunch too 🙂 ), which refers to a group of ingredients I always like to have at the ready.   I address my grocery shopping and pantry must-haves on this page but this takes it a step further to some semi-prepped items I always keep in the freezer or fridge.

My number one Dinner Puzzle Piece would be slow-cooker shredded chicken.    I use this in probably a third of my recipes in heavy rotation.   Every time I buy chicken breasts (hopefully on sale!) I set aside at least half a package (I usually buy in 5 lb increments) for shredded chicken.

Trim about 2-3 lb of boneless, skinless breasts and add to slow cooker. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder to coat. Pour about 2 cups of water over the chicken. Cook on high for 3.5-4 hours. Drain water out of slow cooker. Shred chicken with two forks.

This is good for an unbelievable number of recipes, including enchiladas, egg rolls, and lasagna, as well as my pride and joy, chicken pot pie.     I freeze the shredded chicken in 2-cup portions in Ziploc bags.

I also like to have slow-cooker shredded pork on hand, for things like BBQ pork sandwiches and taquitos.

Trim a 2.5-3 lb pork tenderloin, cut into 2-3 large hunks to fit in slow cooker. You can use other cuts of pork such as butt or shoulder, but I greatly prefer the tenderloin for its leanness and not having to spend an hour on the trimming! Add 2-3 tbsp. minced garlic, 1 roughly chopped onion, 2 tbsp soy sauce and generous dashes of salt and pepper, Cook on low for 8 hours; shred with two forks.

mashed potatoes

shell filling

Filling for burritos

soup and sauces