Hands to help on a Monday night

Bread

As a writer, I’m used to asking the questions.

I inquire. Follow up. Probe, maybe — just a little! — to get to the core of a story in a way I hope will do the subject justice.

After seven years of writing a column, I’m still getting used to being “in the field” writing features — but am enjoying the heck out of it. I rarely get nervous these days because stories are stories, and that’s my job: to tell stories. Mine. Yours. His. Hers. Theirs.

I’ve started spending Monday evenings at a local soup kitchen. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, other than I felt an extreme pull — a need, really — to go. I heard about the need for volunteers at work and, before I knew it, I’d signed up for the next shift. The spiritual part of me thinks that was God, and maybe it was. After sitting behind a desk most of the day, I guess I wanted to get my hands a little dirty.

I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back. In fact, it feels strange to write about it at all — but in a short time, these Monday dinners have become an important part of my life. They matter to me. These people, my neighbors, matter to me.

When I interviewed Angela Mitchell last month, she inspired me so much with her dedication to the Chesapeake Bay and its inhabitants. We talked about how some folks would love to get involved in volunteer work, but it seems daunting.

“Many people say, ‘I don’t know where to start, but I have these two hands and a Saturday morning,’” Mitchell said.

Two hands and a Saturday morning.

Two hands . . . and a Monday night.

And so I’ve started signing up to help at dinners, using an office restroom to change into faded jeans after work. The first time I came to serve anyone who needed a hot meal, at least 20 volunteers crowded the church hall. Everyone was bubbly, eager to help; so many people were there to cook and clean that I wasn’t really needed.

But I stayed. Tried to make myself useful. And at a dinner designed to unite the community and feed the hungry — older people; younger people; homeless people; people coming straight from work in faded uniforms — I looked into faces and listened to stories.

A young girl took a shine to me, lingering around the table of donated goods I was periodically manning. It was her sixth birthday, and she looked eagerly through stacks of school supplies. In her hands was a birthday card, and she asked me to read it aloud several times. “It had $10 in it,” she said.

“Are you going to save your money or spend it?” I asked.

“Spend it!” she said eagerly, as any child would.

I asked her if she had something in mind, and the look she gave me nearly burned.

“Food,” she said. “Duh.”


Eating in America


I have never wanted for food. Never had to fall asleep hungry or go to school hungry or watch others eat with nothing for lunch. My biggest food-related challenge has been to eat less of it — and the idea of a 6-year-old wanting (needing?) to spend birthday money not on toys or clothes, but lunch? Well.

I was not there to pity anyone, and they don’t want our pity. I wasn’t looking for a “thank you.” This was not for a story.

At least . . . not that kind of story.

In sharp contrast to my first time volunteering, when the hall was bursting with eager assistants, I walked in Monday to find two women struggling to pull down chairs and set up tables with just 30 minutes before guests would start arriving. Nothing was cooked, and the room was quiet. There were five of us to feed 40-plus people: serving, assisting, seating, helping, cleaning.

I panicked.

I assumed every night at the soup kitchen would be like my first: all hustle-and-bustle, laughter and ease, many people gathered to help many other people. Someone else in charge. Someone else with authority.

But this wasn’t the other volunteers’ first rodeo. As guests filtered in, I was amazed at the speed with which meatloaf, mashed potatoes, vegetables and rolls sprang from the kitchen. The women in charge were quick, kind and completely in control. After the room was set up for diners, I helped greet everyone and got them situated before we began serving. Many were lined up outside in the sun.

As we rushed to fill drink orders, bring out full plates and track down pats of butter, a young man reached out a hand. “Hi,” he said. “What’s your name?”

If I’m being honest, honest to the bone, well . . . I expected a leer. A come-on. A flirtation. Being asked my name has almost always preceded an unwelcome remark — though at 30, I rarely deal with that sort of thing anymore.

But I told him.

“Nice to meet you, Megan,” he said, and the two men with him also looked up with tired eyes. I smiled before grabbing plates and moving on.

A few minutes later, I passed by again — and the man put out a hand to catch my attention. “I’m sorry — what’s your name again?”

I told him, stifling a snap of impatience. A family was waiting on sweet tea.

“Megan,” he said, “can I ask you something?”

Here it comes, I thought. But I said, “Sure.”

“Megan . . . why do you . . .” He paused to take a slug of his water. Then he glanced at his friends, seemingly for help to pull the words he wanted from the meaty-scented air between us. Finally he asked, “Why do you do what you do?”

And I stood there, rooted to the sticky floor, used cups in my hands and sweaty hair in my face.

What I do?


Veggies


I was not the one who built this nonprofit from the ground up. I hadn’t cooked or organized this dinner. I had not donated meals, goodies or much-needed funds. I was just a worker bee: running plates, scrubbing gravy bowls, crafting Arnold Palmers from the iced tea and lemonade dispensers for delighted children.

I’m not doing much of anything, I thought. I’m just here. I showed up.

“I . . . don’t know,” I said. “I just heard about it and . . . felt like I needed to come.”

And that was the truth. The plain truth.

I don’t like to think about others being hungry — especially children. There are so many causes to care about, so much that can leave us inspired and heartbroken and eager to help. The more I volunteer to serve dinners, the more I feel the need to serve dinners.

I don’t want to talk about helping or plan to help. I just want to do it.

Maybe your cause, like Angela, is to work to preserve your home for future generations. Maybe it’s to encourage others to vote or help rebuild communities or encourage sustainable living or raise funds for cancer research.

Whatever it is, you can start small. Wade in. Commit to a few hours, then a few hours more. Get others involved. Give the gift of your attention.

Sometimes the simplest questions have the hardest answers. And even if we can’t do much, we can do something.

We can show up.


Oliver’s first Easter with easy French toast casserole

Easter was fun.

Really, truly fun.

In sharp contrast to Christmas, when I was stressed and overworked and dead exhausted and so completely overwhelmed I wanted to just get the whole thing over with already (sad, but true), Easter was . . . enjoyable.

It helped that we weren’t all sick. December was nothing but colds, coughs and croup, and it was awful. Now the weather is beautiful, the trees are in bloom, flowers dot lawns and the sun is shining . . . ahhh. I feel better just typing all that!

It was Oliver’s first, given he was born the Sunday after Easter last year. Because he’s four months older than he was at the holidays, he also seemed to better “get it.” He’s much more interactive now, more mobile and vocal. Though the nuances of a religious holiday were certainly lost on him, he looked darn cute in pastels — and even cuter with vibrant eggs. And bunny ears.

Blackmail for when he’s mouthing off at 16, eh?

Easter

Easter eggs

I was my better self on Sunday. The self that is in the moment, happy to be doing whatever she’s doing, wherever she is . . . running around and maybe anxious, but still aware of it all. Because it was Oliver’s last “first” holiday, I wanted to document it — but even more, I wanted to live in it.

This has been, for sure, the longest shortest time.

In two weeks, my baby will turn 1. He’s already practically a toddler, scrambling to keep up with his friends at day care and older cousins, not yet moving but definitely taking everything in. It won’t be long before it “clicks,” and then we’ll have a new problem: a child who runs faster than we do.

In that vein, I’ve given myself permission to . . . well, to let things go. Just a bit. A bit! Because we often welcome friends and family, sometimes without notice, I’ve had to fight down this … this urge to scrub, tidy and organize. To seem like a family with two working parents who still keep a spotless home.

But our home is not spotless. Even during those first few months at home, I felt like I had to keep the house impeccable even with a few scratched-together hours of sleep. It was hard to let go of those old insecurities about others not seeing you “at your best,” but I eventually accepted something had to change. That something was me.

In the last year, I have cried and I have laughed and I have welcomed friends into my living room with matted hair, smudged eyeliner and dirty diapers forgotten on the floor. When we volunteered to host an Easter brunch last Sunday, I had to fight — almost physically — an urge to clean and tidy like no tomorrow, panicking in the hours before my parents, grandparents and aunt arrived because I was worried everything was not . . . up to snuff.

But it was fine. And if it wasn’t, they would never have said anything — and surely cut us some slack. So does it really matter?

We served this French toast casserole on Easter morning, and it’s the epitome of what I love in a recipe these days: delicious, filling and quick. It can — and should! — be partially prepared the night before, meaning your work in the morning is minimal. It involves sprinkling on some brown sugar, popping it in the oven and going on your merry way.

Until you return with a fork.

Which you will do — and very quickly. Its aroma can’t be denied. Plus, the leftovers reheat beautifully for breakfasts later on . . . you know, if you have any left.

After our brunch, we had a really nice afternoon visiting with my grandmother, cousins and family in Virginia — complete with Ollie’s first Easter egg hunt! He was more concerned with beating any surface like a drum than actually seeking eggs, but he did realize they make excellent maracas.

I’ll listen to his beats any day.


French toast casserole 1

Easy Apple French Toast Casserole

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 (8 ounce) loaf of French bread, cut into bite-sized pieces and slightly dried out
2 cups milk
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pinch ground cinnamon, or to taste
1 jar (15 ounces) scalloped cinnamon apples
1 tablespoon brown sugar, or more as desired

1. Grease a 9×12-inch baking dish.

2. In a medium saucepan, stir together 1 cup brown sugar and butter together over medium-low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves into butter, about 2-4 minutes. Pour into prepared baking dish and spread 2-inch layer of bread pieces over the top, lightly pressing bread into mixture to soak it up.

3. Beat milk, eggs and vanilla extract together in a bowl. Pour milk mixture over bread into the baking dish, moving bread as needed to make sure all bread absorbs liquid. Spoon scalloped apples over bread, spreading between pieces as desired. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cover dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate, 8 hours to overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove and discard plastic wrap from dish, then sprinkle with remaining brown sugar over the bread mixture.

5. Bake in the preheated oven until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy, refrigerating any leftovers to enjoy later!

Recipe slightly adapted from AllRecipes


French toast casserole 2


Quick shepherd’s pie-inspired casserole

Shepherds pie

The week of my son’s surgery, my mother- and father-in-law arrived to help — and they brought food.

Lots of food.

You don’t realize what a task it is just feeding yourself until the last thing you want to do is feed yourself. Whether you’re exhausted (physically, emotionally . . . er, both), bored in the kitchen or just don’t feel like scrounging up dinner for the 1,676th time, having someone cook for you? At your own house? Amazing. And very appreciated.

Because I lived at home until marrying at 28, I completely took the reliable dinner-on-the-table-at-6:30 schedule for granted. I grew up spoiled by my dad’s reliable meals, and never had to worry about much prep beyond helping to set the table and clear afterward.

As I got older, I started pitching in during family mealtimes — but my parents usually handled the menu. It wasn’t until I met Spencer that I began seriously researching recipes and cooking . . . and it really took us moving in together before reality smacked me in the face. With a spatula.

My mother-in-law is a wonderful cook used to feeding a crowd. In the wonderful Johnson family, meals are frequently shared at their house on the hill — and this recipe was one Alex prepared for us during our holiday visit a few months back.

This version prepares a 9×13 casserole-worth of a quick shepherd’s pie (lots of delicious leftovers for two people), but you could easily double it for get-togethers. I tinkered just a bit with Alex’s original, but this recipe is hers.

It’s comforting, quick and easy to prepare . . . likely with ingredients you have on hand. Practically in a weekly rotation at our house. It really tastes homemade, you know?

And that’s a great thing.

Could you substitute homemade mashed potatoes for instant? Sure. But, as my mother-in-law asserts, it’s best to use the canned varieties of veggies. Fresh actually isn’t best here; you want that soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture. I’ve separately added corn and peas to this recipe, but found we like the green beans/carrot combo best.

But, you know . . . do what feels right. My mother-in-law uses frozen peas and carrots — also awesome. So improvise! Be bold! . . . Make dinner!

Let me know when it’s ready.


Shepherds pie


Quick Shepherd’s Pie Casserole

Ingredients:
1 lb. ground beef (I use 93/7 mixture)
4 oz. or more package of instant mashed potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano
1 can (14.5 oz) sliced carrots
2 cans (14.5 oz) green beans
1 can (10.5 oz) cream of celery soup
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Paprika, to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium saucepan, set water to boil for instant mashed potatoes. Prepare potatoes according to package directions. When ready, set aside in a warm place.

In the meantime, add olive oil to nonstick skillet and brown the ground beef over medium-high heat. As beef cooks, add the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, black pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and oregano. Drain the meat and spread it evenly in the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish.

Drain the green beans and carrots, then combine vegetables in a separate bowl. Add the cream of celery soup to veggies and stir to combine. Distribute this mixture evenly atop the ground beef, then spread the prepared mashed potatoes as the top layer. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, then dust with paprika.

Bake in a 350F oven for 30 minutes, until hot and cheese has melted. Cool a few minutes before cutting to allow casserole to thicken. Serve with biscuits or cornbread, and enjoy!


Shepherds pie

For the “wow” factor, use a cookie scoop to place mashed potatoes
on top before baking — Alex’s idea. Cute, eh?


Creamy chicken and wild rice soup in the slow cooker

Creamy chicken soup

There aren’t too many slow cooker recipes we eat every. drop. of.

Every Crock Pot meal produces leftovers — especially for just two people (and a toothless infant who has just started eyeing “real food”). But more often than not, we get tired of the food before the food tires of us.

Or something like that.

But this? On the night we came home to that lovely aroma filling the house, it fed us both with seconds — plus a guest. We still had five (!) huge servings left over, so we packaged them up for a lunch (mine) and two more dinners (for both of us). In a given week, we ate this soup three separate times . . . and still weren’t sick of it.

That’s how delicious it was.

My husband is always appreciative of my slow cooker creations, but never have I heard him go so crazy over dinner. The only way it would have been better was if it were actually not 95 degrees outside . . . because, yeah.

This is warm, comforting, tasty soup that really sticks to your ribs and will be perfect for the chilly fall days to come. Serve with a little shaved Parmesan cheese and a hunk of bread to officially enter slow cooker heaven.


Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

1 cup uncooked wild rice
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 cup onions, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tablespoons salt-free poultry seasoning
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil (or substitute more butter)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse wild rice under running water. Place the uncooked rice, chicken breast, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, chicken broth, water and poultry seasoning in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on the high setting for 3-4 hours or on the low setting for 7-8.

In the last half hour of cooking, remove the chicken from the slow cooker. Allow to cool slightly before shredding using two forks, then add back into the slow cooker. Melt butter and oil in a saucepan. Add the flour and let the mixture cook for 1 minute. Whisk the mixture slowly while adding in the milk. Continue to whisk until all lumps have dissolved. Allow the mixture to thicken and become creamy.

Add this creamy mixture to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Add additional water or milk to your preference if the consistency is too thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 6-8.

When reheating leftovers, add 1-2 tablespoons additional milk or water before heating. Enjoy!

Recipe from Little Spice Jar


Light Beef & Mushroom Stroganoff and meal planning

beef stroganoff

Before Oliver was born, I envisioned a lot of macaroni and cheese.

You hear stories of exhausted new parents who would survive on nothing but frozen pizza, TV dinners and the kindness of strangers (and their casseroles) for weeks. Maybe months.

When Ollie first came home, we were definitely two members of the Zombie Parents Club, and I couldn’t honestly tell you what we ate back then. I remember my parents coming by that first night with a huge family feast from Boston Market. We ate what we could (not much, given I was anxiously staring at our itty bitty baby the entire time), and reheated the leftovers for a week.

It took a little while, but we gradually got back in the kitchen. Spence and I love to cook. Before my maternity leave was up, I would look forward to Spence coming home daily for a thousand reasons . . . but especially so I could get started on dinner. It was a major stress reliever to do something “normal” after caring for an infant all day, and babying a skillet was a delicious taste of the old life.

I’ve now been back at work longer than I was out following Ollie’s birth, and I can’t pretend that being a working parent isn’t hard . . . but it’s a challenge we’re figuring out day by day, week by week. (On rough days, maybe moment by moment.) Another way life has changed?

Meal planning.

I doubted the wondrous powers of planning dinners in advance, friends. It was once a delightful challenge to come home, throw down my purse, kick off my heels and pour through the contents of our fridge and pantry until inspiration struck. If our brilliant plan took two hours to make, involving a fair amount of stirring and baking and hovering over the stove, that was A-OK. Put on a little Ingrid Michaelson, pull back your hair and get started.

Needless to say, we no longer have the time — or, more importantly, the energy — for anything complicated. I still look forward to our homemade meals, but our few precious hours as a family on weeknights are better spent out of the kitchen. I like knowing what I’m going to make ahead of time, which means we can get back and just get started.

Also? Budgeting. Babies are expensive, y’all. I knew this, I guess, but was naive to how costly the newest member of our crew would be. While we still stroll through the grocery store and grab little odds and ends when the mood strikes, I’m a pretty regimented listmaker. Meal planning goes a long way toward helping us keep our food costs low — and prevents too much food spoilage.

list

So what do I do? Nothing fancy. Maybe you even do something fancier. On Sunday afternoons, before shopping, I sit down and draft a list of dinners for the week. I don’t always follow the strict schedule (meatloaf on Monday, tacos on Tuesday), but the mix-and-match nature of the week is still okay. As long as the ingredients are on hand, we can play a little fast and loose with the timing.

Once I have an idea of what we’re making for the week, I head to the kitchen to see what we already have on hand — especially fresh ingredients — to avoid buying anything unnecessary. This is also a good way to see what we need to use up (like lettuce, a bag of carrots, some leftover grilled chicken) and amend my plan slightly to incorporate these things, as needed.

In my unscientific estimation, we save about $15 a week — $60 a month — by sticking (mostly) to my list, avoiding costly ingredients we’ll only use once and paying more attention to pantry staples we already have (the three bottles of Frank’s RedHot, for example).

We typically go out to dinner one night a week, which is a treat — and good motivation to cook at home the other evenings. Though honestly? By the time Spence and I get back with the little guy, the last thing I want to do is gather up all of our accoutrements and head back out. We don’t exactly travel light these days!

Funny how, when I was home on leave, I was desperate to get out of the house. And now that I’m gone nine hours a day, I can’t wait to come back.

So when we’re scouring the Internet and cookbooks to draft our meal plan for the week, I’m looking for quick, easy, filling and healthy-ish meals that will make enough for work lunches the next day. And if it doesn’t involve dirtying every dish in my house? Even better.

Enter this Beef & Mushroom Stroganoff, a tasty and lighter version of the creamy, heavy meal we all remember from childhood. We’re obsessed with mushrooms at the Johnson household, so we actually doubled the amount the recipe calls for. Just, you know . . . do what feels right.

And the best part? The leftovers were ri-dic-u-lous. Woo!


Light Beef & Mushroom Stroganoff

Ingredients:
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 lb. ground beef
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups beef broth
1 package wide egg noodles
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Instructions:

Add garlic and butter to a large pot or skillet and sauté for one to two minutes over medium heat, or until the garlic is fragrant. Add the ground beef and continue to sauté until it is fully browned.

Once the beef has browned, add mushrooms and continue to sauté until they are soft. Add flour and sauté for about two minutes more.

Add beef broth to the pot and stir to dissolve the flour. Add the uncooked egg noodles. Place a lid on the pot and allow the liquid to come up to a boil. As soon as it reaches a boil, reduce heat to low and allow the pot to simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the noodles are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed (keep covered while simmering). Stir every few minutes to prevent noodles from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Make sure the liquid is simmering the entire time. If not, increase the heat slightly.

Once the noodles are tender, stir in the sour cream. Sprinkle with fresh parsley (optional), serve hot and enjoy!

Recipe adapted slightly from Budget Bytes


Grilled corn and tomatoes with a honey lime dressing

Roasted corn

Come Saturday morning, you’d be hard-pressed to find me somewhere other than the farmers’ market.

Given we have a stroller and adorably demanding human in tow these days, those trips have to be a bit more planned out . . . but since Oliver has been cleared for public strolls, we try to pack the little guy up and head out.

We were housebound for a while there — and the last time I made it to our local market, we had a choice of zucchini, squash and a few paltry peppers. This past weekend? Well, friends, it was a veritable smorgasbord . . . and I went hog wild.

Cherry tomatoes.
Watermelon.
Cantaloupe.
Blueberries.
Tomatoes so fat, you want to bite right in.

And after picking up half a dozen ears of corn for our little Fourth of July barbeque at home, I remembered a simple corn and tomato side dish I whipped up a few times last year. Like this cucumber and onion salad, this dish is light and fresh and comes together in no time flat.

Especially valuable when the little person inside the aforementioned stroller has a meltdown.

The original recipe calls for the addition of avocado, but I didn’t have any on hand — so I skipped it. It’s delicious without, so I’m imagining it’s even better with!


Grilled Corn and Tomatoes
with a Honey Lime Dressing

Ingredients:
1 pint grape tomatoes
4 ears of fresh sweet corn
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, or 1 tbsp dried cilantro

For the dressing:
Juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Remove husks from corn and grill over medium heat for 10 minutes. (The corn should have some brown spots and be tender, but not mushy.) Cut the corn off the cob and remove silks. Set aside to cool. Slice tomatoes in half.

To make the dressing, add all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Combine the sliced tomatoes, cilantro and grilled corn with the honey lime dressing and mix gently until evenly coasted. Chill the dish for at least 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Epicurious


Tomato basil chicken stew

Chicken stew

I try not to be too hard on Old Me.

You know, pre-baby me — the person who found rising at 6:30 a.m. painful, and considered anything less than seven hours of sleep to be a death sentence. The woman who could barely drag herself out of bed to smooch her husband goodbye at 7, and would chain-drink coffee in the mornings, “lighting” the next mug from the previous cup.

Now that we have a feisty newborn in our house, my previous experiences of “being tired” are sort of . . . funny. In that “Man, I was just so innocent” sort of way. Sleep deprivation will do funny things to you, and we’ve only been at this a month.

But this was my first week back at work, and I wanted to make life as easy for us as possible. Just sorting out our new schedules — two full-time work schedules, plus our day care planning — was a task, so I tried to make sure we’d be reasonably well-fed during the transition.

So I’m back to the slow cooker, my dear friend. I remember when getting a meal in the Crock Pot had me feeling like Superwoman, and I walked around all day anticipating the dinner I got ready before work. Yesterday I did all that, plus ten thousand other little tasks — and with a cranky, adorable baby on my hip.

At almost 10 weeks old, Ollie is already getting used to the aroma of garlic. Gotta teach that kid early.

This Tomato Basil Chicken Stew might not scream “summertime,” but it’s hearty in all the right ways — and generated leftovers for lunches, our saving grace. It’s not heavy or dense . . . in fact, for a stew, it’s remarkably light. The Parmesan cheese adds a nice saltiness and punch.

And honestly? As it was ready when we walked in the door with the aforementioned cranky infant after a very long day, it probably could have tasted like sun-baked seaweed and I would have still licked the bowl.

But it really is good. Trust the sleep-deprived.


Chicken stew

Tomato Basil Chicken Stew

Ingredients:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 stalks of celery, diced
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 (28 oz) cans whole tomatoes (with their juices)
1 (14 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 lb chicken breasts or tenderloins
2 handfuls baby spinach
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese (to taste)

Directions:
In a medium skillet, saute onions, carrots and celery in olive oil, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and saute for additional minute, then put aside.

In a slow cooker, pour in and crush tomatoes. Layer chicken over tomatoes and add remaining ingredients, except cheese. Stir gently to combine and cover chicken. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. Before serving, remove chicken and shred with two forks, then add chicken back to stew. Serve with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Recipe lightly adapted for the slow cooker from Gimme Some Oven


Chicken stew